Could this be the end of auDA? It’s less than 12 months since a revolt by auDA members that led to the then-Chair Stuart Benjamin resigning prior to a Special General Meeting was held to oust him. At the time auDA said they would listen to their members. But they haven’t. So a trio of members have proposed another SGM, this time calling for the sacking of CEO Cameron Boardman and removing the 3 independent directors including Chair Chris Leptos.
The SGM comes at a delicate time for auDA, the .au country code top level domain (ccTLD) policy and regulatory body. The Australian government is close to releasing a report into auDA’s governance, consultation into which has led to furious lobbying by auDA to make changes that would include sidelining the input of members and from others to have significant changes to the way auDA is managed.
The SGM has been proposed by Josh Rowe, a former auDA director for 14 years and a digital entrepreneur, Paul Szyndler, former auDA General Manager – International and Government Affairs for 5 years and industry participant Jim Stewart. For the SGM to happen, at least 5% of members must support calling it and a petition is available for auDA members to sign at grumpier.com.au. The meeting would be convened pursuant to Section 249D of the Corporations Act 2001. Sources have told Domain Pulse they well and truly have the numbers.
There are 3 themes around which those behind Grumpier have united:
1. The lack of proper process from auDA on consultation for direct, or second level, registrations with negligible input from business and the Chair Chris Leptos claiming there will be “winners and losers”. A Business Case Study was promised by the CEO Cameron Boardman, but this has not been forthcoming. The Policy Review Panel was also never fully populated like previous auDA panels were – and given that there has also been some natural attrition, this has probably contributed to its likely downfall.
2. Poor communication and transparency, which auDA management promised to improve at the last SGM, but which hasn’t happened. A tweet (see below) from former Director Simon Johnson says it all! Whilst that situation has been partially rectified, the last minutes to appear on the auDA website is for a meeting held in December 2017, while minutes haven’t appeared for a meeting in November (nor an agenda), nor meetings in February or March 2018.
Then there is the issue of potential rumours about past alleged financial irregularities by some former staff and management. This topic has been around for over a year, but nothing has been detailed or proven.
3. Poor governance including the lack of action to appoint replacement Demand class directors – following the resignation of Ned O’Meara this month there are now only 2 of 4 demand class directors on the board.
“Even since the last SGM auDA has not listened to members and not been in touch with the broader internet community,” said Josh Rowe. “There needs to be a change of leadership and this is why we’ve called the SGM.”
Member dissatisfaction, and the fact auDA is a member-driven not-for-profit organisation that is accountable to a range of stakeholders, has grown in recent months. The handling of the Registry Transformation Project that saw Afilias oust Neustar as the registry has also seen member dissatisfaction grow. As part of the winning Afilias bid, due to a rumoured much cheaper price, it was expected that the wholesale price, that charged to registrars, of domain names would fall dramatically. However it appears that the fee will only decline by about 10%. Who keeps the rest is the question that Grumpier asks?
Grumpier follows on from the Grumpy campaign that was led by Scott Long, Ian Halson and until last week auDA director Ned O’Meara. Those behind Grumpier say while “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, the 3 behind Grumpy, have nothing to do with Grumpier.com.au.
Another key question that has to be asked of auDA’s current management is it too inexperienced to run such an organisation? There has been high turnover of staff as Domain Pulse has previously reported with only 2 of about 14 staff remaining since Boardman took over as CEO in August 2016 plus some key appointees departing before their seats were warm. Sources Domain Pulse have spoken to say they estimate ‘well in excess of $1 million has been spent’ paying off departing staff and keeping them silent. Questions are also asked by Grumpier about the sudden departure of Company Secretary Di Parker last year after the SGM and the reasons behind Simon Johnson’s sudden resignation as Director.
There are also concerns that “friends or previous colleagues of the CEO have been appointed to plum positions within the organisation” without the positions being advertised. There are also concerns about the independent directors with questions raised around Suzanne Ewart’s being made chair of the auDA board Security and Risk sub-committee when she appears to have no “relevant experience … in this most important discipline” while Sandra Hook is longest serving Independent, “but what has she done about any of the [governance problems and] what relevant domain industry experience does she have?”
The 4 resolutions are:
- Resolution 1 – Vote of no confidence in Cameron Boardman (CEO)
- Resolution 2 – Removal of Chris Leptos as a Director
- Resolution 3 – Removal of Sandra Hook as a Director
- Resolution 4 – Removal of Suzanne Ewart as a Director
* Disclaimer: the writer was an auDA Board member (2005 to 2007), served on 3 auDA Names Policy Panels (2007, 2010 and 2015), was a supplier to auDA for 14 years and is now a supplier to Neustar providing online media monitoring services.