Making Sense of the Kubuntu Council Leadership Spat

By now the news has spread quite quickly; the Ubuntu Community Council (or “CC” for short) had attempted to boot Jonathan Riddell as a community leader, asking him to “take an extended break” from the Kubuntu Council (“KC” for short) citing personality conflicts and breaches of the Ubuntu code of conduct.

So, what just happened? On the various news sites and through some broken telephones there’s several misconceptions about what happened. Being an outsider the whole issue is rather complicated, I know nothing of the structure around Canonical, Ubuntu, and these councils and how all this relates to Kubuntu.

This isn’t going to be a post about the he-said-she-said arguments, but is more of an outsiders explanation into how all this fits together and what it really means.

I’d like to mention I’ve received corrections in the comments, and would like to give a thank-you to the commenters for their feedback.

What is the Community Council? How does it work?

The Community Council is the highest governing body representing the Ubuntu umbrella of projects, including its derivatives. The CC is a democratic organisation with 7 seats available for elected representatives and a 8th tie-breaking seat being reserved by Mark Shuttleworth. The group uses a well defined electoral process which receives votes and nominations from the Ubuntu membership and community at large.

The group manages non-technical communication and governance of the Ubuntu project and derivatives. An important part of this event is the mandate that the council operates transparently to the wider community, the idea being that they would also serve as a bridge between the commercial arm of Canonical and the open-source community at large.

What is the Kubuntu Council?

Just like a larger governing body, the Community Council has delegated sub-councils to represent larger projects within the community. The Kubuntu Council is one such branch managing the KDE-oriented Kubuntu project. Like the CC, the Kubuntu Council is composed of members elected by the community.

When the system works the idea is that the Kubuntu Council will take care of project-level matters independently, and the Kubuntu Council lead will attend meetings to trade information and matters upstream with the Community Council.

So… Does Canonical Own Kubuntu?

I will note here that Canonical is not one of the active parties in this dispute – this section is only meant to clarify misconceptions I’ve seen online, and to help explain the next sections.

Canonical owns the trademark for Kubuntu – so as a ‘brand’ they own Kubuntu. Beyond that Canonical does not directly fund Kubuntu, instead they offer infrastructure in the form of repositories and servers, where Kubuntu is allowed to piggyback off the Canonical/Ubuntu project network and work more closely with upstream resources.

But Canonical does not employ the Kubuntu staff; previously they did employ staff but Blue Systems stepped in when Canonical cut funding. Blue Systems has since become a much larger part of what drives Kubuntu than Canonical. Both of these together have made Kubuntu (as a project) much more than a solely Canonical venture.

In over-simplified terms Canonical owns the franchise and Blue Systems runs the hottest ‘non-headquarters’ location.

Who is Jonathan Riddell?

Jonathan is an ex-Canonical employee who was scooped up by Blue Systems after Canonical cut funding.

Part of Canonical cutting Kubuntu funding was terminating Jonathan as an employee of Canonical. He essentially retained his position in all community aspects of Ubuntu, just without the paycheque: he is a Kubuntu Council member, has access to the Canonical infrastructure, and helps manage the Kubuntu project.

Blue systems picked him up and he is able to work full-time in an almost identical capacity that he did as a Canonical employee.

What was the Ruckus?

Mainly, there’s some conflicts between Riddell and members of the core Community Council. Riddell had repeatedly pushed several issues which the council was unable to fulfil, leading to frustration on both sides. In the end both sides showed the stress they were under, at which point the Community Council privately decided they would oust Jonathan from the Kubuntu Council.

The KC replied arguing that the decision was not made transparently, questioned how much power the Community Council should have over the community-elected Kubuntu Council roster, and was incensed by the CC not retracting the decision before a transparent conversation. The Kubuntu Council didn’t want to negotiate “with a gun to [their] heads”.

Who Ultimately Gives the Orders?

The Kubuntu Council is bound by their constitution to obey “legitimate orders” from the Community Council; if the CC makes a decision in line with the Code of Conduct and its own constitution the Kubuntu Council must obey that request. But no provisions have been made for when the two groups disagree over a decision. The Community Council may be forced to cut off Jonathan or supporters from Ubuntu support infrastructure, such as Canonical repositories and funding, and the group has already stated that he is keeping his upload rights and ability to request funding. However given the hostilities, revoking those privileges might be a hardball solution, and one that the Kubuntu Council may not have control over.

The reason Kubuntu believes it can reject an authoritative attempt is threefold; it had never happened before so there was no ‘precedent’, there was no warning for Jonathan to correct the ‘behavioural issues’, and the largest reason is because the Kubuntu Council does not feel the decision was legitimate.

The entire issue hinges on the legitimacy of the order; Kubuntu Council only has to obey legitimate orders, and questions whether a decision made behind closed-doors when the mandate is transparency be considered legitimate.

In short: yes the Community Council can remove people from its sub-councils, but it might have terrible fallout if done improperly. They can’t really tell the Kubuntu crew what to do if Kubuntu doesn’t find the orders legitimate. But if push comes to shove it is possible for the Community Council and Canonical to revoke infrastructure access if a resolution cannot be found.

What Happens Now?

Right now the Community Council is exerting control over projects using their infrastructure much like a company would manage employees; if someone isn’t in line they can be moved, removed, or suspended without public debate.

The problem with this strategy is the fact that communities don’t like being dictated to, and in attempting to do so rubbed the community the wrong way. The Community Council literally gave an order and the Kubuntu Council said “no”. So what happens now?

By removing Jonathan from his position in the Kubuntu community, it also affects his value for Blue Systems. If he were removed, it brings into question what Blue Systems and the community would do in response; Riddell is a Blue Systems employee and carries significant community favour from KDE users.

The first thing that can happen is… Nothing. Birds will sing, grass will grow, and the KC will make the CC grit their teeth a bit. Maybe Jonathan will be removed after a more transparent meeting, maybe not. If the KC doesn’t remove Jonathan, then it may force Canonical into an awkward situation where it must back the council and start cutting off infrastructure.

Second, if this is resolved, Mark and the Community Council may revise its community strategy and put in safeguards for these situations and possibly enforce a more formal structure over the ad-hoc sub-community model. This would need to apply to all communities as singling out specific projects would simply inflame the situation, in the future preventing other projects from entering a similar situation.

Third, instead of a split the Kubuntu crew might attempt to separate their internal governance a bit; possibly designating a separate group to work with the Community Council while the main leadership remains as-is. Ubuntu can work with their partners effectively without disturbing the leadership, but this solution complicates communication and doesn’t fix several underlying issues.

The next thing that may happen could be the start of a more gradual separation; Kubuntu as a project may slowly take on more infrastructure, growing apart and leaving the nest – maybe with Canonicals blessing and the transfer of the Kubuntu trademark. Who knows.

Lastly both sides could calmly file into a room before sizing up chairs to throw at each other; terrible words being said about peoples mothers before forking Kubuntu into ‘Librebuntu’. This would hurt as the Kubuntu and KDE developers already have poor relations with Canonical, meaning a fork would likely lead to a mass exodus from Kubuntu to the new project (much like the LibreOffice fork). While the freedom of not having Canonical or the Community Council dictate policy would be refreshing, the loss of infrastructure would be a certain setback.

In the End… ?

In the end, I think we all simply hope that projects, companies, communities, and benevolent dictators can all work together in relative harmony. The situation isn’t ideal, but a major part of building strong communities is occasionally finding out something doesn’t work – and fixing it; hopefully to the benefit of everyone involved.

Right now both sides are holding strong in a ‘grey zone’ with their actions – the CC seems to be meting out harsh decisions without clear policy, and the KC is refusing to listen until the CC backpedals on its position.

That’s my breakdown of the politics; I hope it helped and provided insight into this whole messy affair. I hope to gets all sorted out in the long run. If I have anything wrong, please do let me know in the comments and I’ll make the relevant corrections.

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30 thoughts on “Making Sense of the Kubuntu Council Leadership Spat

  1. Power corrupts. Give anyone power and their ego(s) will immediately abuse that power. Where monetary gain/cost is a concern (either real or by services provided), cajolement of the thrall is a distinct and discernable outcome. This would not have occurred if the software was actually free and not lorded over by financial concerns. Maybe they should join forces with Slackware, Arch or LFS and get a university or two to host their files… Better still the parties could change their distro names to: Stalin, Hitler, Churchill etc – and meet at the school gates at “home time” for some “fisticuffs”…

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  2. I hope nothing in Ubuntu’s marketing material makes any mention of “transparency” or “openness” in regards to its governance and policy making, as this is clearly a case of wanting to hide the reasons for their actions from the user community. It’s NOT clearly a case of their doing this for cowardly/malicious reasons (it’s just conceivable that Jonathan’s actions were so embarrassing that they’re keeping things under wraps for his sake, for example)…but it certainly isn’t transparent, and the secrecy tends to suggest their reasons would be denounced by the wider community if they were honest and open about the details. One more black mark against Ubuntu’s reputation.

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  3. Sad as the money-tracking and distribution (and who expects equal shares?) issues may be, I doubt they’re central to this flap.

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  4. While this may seem like a minor quibble the Kubuntu Constitution was modified after they got notification from the Community Council. They original wording was “Kubuntu is part of the Ubuntu project and the council will abide by decisions of the Ubuntu Community Council.”

    It also stated that “Revisions to the constitution must be pre-announced on the kubuntu-devel mailing list, must be pre-announced to the Ubuntu Community Council and other stakeholders, and must be approved by a vote of the Kubuntu Council.” When they made the change they did not abide by their constitution and notify the Ubuntu Community Council.

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    1. You are wrong, we did announce the change before it was discussed in our community meeting, and at least one member of the CC was present at our meeting.

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  5. “Unlike the Community Council, The Kubuntu Council is composed of members elected by the community, where the CC members are delegated by Mark Shuttleworth and later approved by the Ubuntu members.”

    …completely wrong … *all* members of all flavours (including Kubuntu) and Ubuntu itself elect the community council … it is the top level authority for all community related issues and thus its members are appointed by and elected by the whole community. Mark does exactly have one vote to cast for them like every other community member and has no say in who can be delegated or proposed for election. The one exception here is that Mark has a standing seat in this council but he can not take any influence on the votes or nominations.

    Sub councils like Kubuntu CC, Xubuntu CC, Edubuntu CC etc are elected by their respective flavour members only though.

    see https://wiki.ubuntu.com/CommunityCouncil/Restaffing for details

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    1. Thank you for the clarification, I’ll update the post promptly. I’ll try to find the source material where I received that information – I believe it was on an Ubuntu Wiki – so it should probably be corrected. For now I’ll do the fix, I’ll have to look for the source later tonight.

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    2. Hmmm… There’s some conflicting information on the wiki (I tracked it down);
      https://wiki.ubuntu.com/CommunityCouncil
      https://wiki.ubuntu.com/CommunityCouncil/Restaffing

      The CC general page states “Members are appointed by Mark Shuttleworth and approved by a vote by the entire Ubuntu membership.”; I’ve tweaked my wording to better reflect this, but the restaffing page has a lot of “ifs”, “cases”, and “optional” wording in it. The page directly says that sometimes no votes happen, and the nominations stage is marked optional along with the voting stage. I don’t know if there’s a membership history page which shows what the ratios are of how members received their positions – but if there is, in this situation, I’d like to see that information before calling it an entirely democratic process; the wording and explanations of the two pages imply that Mark and the Council have the choice to simply skip the nominations and voting process if they have decided on an individual.

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        1. Absolutly wonderful; I’ll make the update asap. Also, ++ on digging out those records – I can never for the life of me find anything on mailing lists.

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    1. That’s… Actually really shocking. I thought they probably raised $20,000 or $30,000 total, I didn’t realise they raised over $140,000, nonetheless allocated $47,000 to flavours. When some of the Council members were saying “don’t expect much” I was thinking that meant they might have enough to buy a server or send a couple people on trains. Divided 9 ways and anticipating overhead that’s still gotta be $5,000 which should have gone to Kubuntu.

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  6. your current count is still wrong “currently 3 of 7 members of the council are Canonical employees”, it’s “2 of 7” of “3 of 8” if you count the sabdfl

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        1. In updating the section to better reflect Ogras’ updates I’ve removed the staff ratio – I feel it’s not pertinent information anymore.

          Edit: Wow, math, I can’t do it. I thought it was 6 sets plus a 7th, so, yes, my apologies – you’re completely right guys.

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  7. *”The group is open to anyone, but as of my research only one of the seven members of the council is not a Canonical employee.”*

    Not sure what research you did, but this is not correct. The [council is made up of (https://launchpad.net/~communitycouncil/+members)

    Charles Profitt
    Daniel Holbach
    Elfy
    Elizabeth K. Joseph
    Laura Czajkowski
    Mark Shuttleworth
    Michael Hall
    Scott Ritchie

    Of these only Michael Hall and Daniel Holbach are employed by Canonical. Obviously Mark is also SABDFL, so you can count him too. That makes 3 of 8. Further, everyone on the council is serving as a community volunteer. They volunteer there time to help make ubuntu better.

    *”The group manages infrastructure and communication for Canonical to allocate its resources for Ubuntu and derivatives. An important part of this event is the mandate that the council operates transparently to the wider community, the idea being that they would also serve as a bridge between the commercial arm of Canonical and the open-source community at large.”*

    This is also not quite right. Have a look at the [governance page](http://www.ubuntu.com/about/about-ubuntu/governance), but in summary the council ” … handles appointments to and elections for official project boards and councils. The council is also responsible for the Code of Conduct and tasked with ensuring that community members follow its guidelines. ”

    *”Just like a larger governing body the Community Council has offshoots to represent larger projects who are tasked with relaying project-specific notices to the mothership. The Kubuntu Council is one such offshoot managing the KDE-oriented Kubuntu project, and as such is obstinately a Canonical organisation.”*

    Whoa, completely wrong. The Kubuntu Council has no ties whatsoever with Canonical.

    *”When the system works the idea is that the Kubuntu Council will take care of project-level matters independently, and form a todo list for upstream needs of the Kubuntu project and pass it back to the Community Council. In turn, the Community Council will keep the individual projects abreast of the goings-ons.”*

    What? The Kubuntu Council doesn’t pass to-do lists to the CC. This is not how or what these Councils do. At this point, I’m not sure I need to read further. Everything you’ve said until now has been off or just completely wrong.

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    1. Thank you for the corrections.

      I certainly had some mix-ups with Canonicals involvement, and I sincerely regret that misinformation. I’ve gone through the entire post and made significant edits. Additionally, I’ve removed several argumentative statements which do not belong in a neutral analysis. If my synopsis is still off, I welcome any additional feedback on what I have wrong so I can correct this post further.

      Again, thank you.

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  8. What you miss, I feel, is that the Kubuntu council (like the CC) is community elected. The CC didn’t appoint Jonathan and besides the fact that they broke their own transparency rules and also probably shouldn’t be the deciding body in a conflict they themselves are central to, they seem to have little business kicking him out. I can get they don’t want to talk to him anymore- fine, but then ask the community for a new representative. Don’t unilaterally fire one of the people they chose to be in a leading role.

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  9. My reading is that the CC felt accused by Jonathan of acting in bad faith. If that is true, that does go against the Ubuntu CoC.

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    1. After Shuttleworth’s comment on the issue, it is apparent that he doesn’t care for
      Riddell, especially after defunding Kubuntu once before, thus essentially firing him(no more paycheck.)
      Looks like the CC is doing some back room politics under an opaque cloak, when the bylaws call for sunshine.
      Lack of transparency is the main issue. That Shuttleworth doesn’t like many at KDE and vice versa is a big factor.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Personally I expect something like Revolution X where everyone whips out CD guns and starts trying to shoot each other with Ubuntu and Kubuntu installer discs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Then the last person standing suddenly collapses as a shadowy figure steps into the grizzly scene – pulling the Arch CD out from their back, walking away, humming.

      Liked by 2 people

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