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Ubuntu Community Council, Jonathan Riddell discuss their recent fallout

In the wake of the Ubuntu Community Council's separation with Jonathan Riddell, I reached out to both, along with the Kubuntu Council, to get every side of the story.

Ubuntu Community Council, Kubuntu Council, Jonathan Riddell,
Credit: Sunny Ripert

Last week, the Ubuntu Community Council sent an email to the members of the Kubuntu Council containing the following statement:

"At this time we have sent an email to Jonathan [Riddell] requesting that he step aside from all positions of leadership in the Ubuntu Community for at least 12 months. This request will require him to step aside from leadership in Kubuntu as well."

BACKGROUND: Making sense of the Ubuntu licensing fiasco

In essence, the Ubuntu Community Council (UCC) voted to strip Jonathan Riddell (whom the UCC considers the leader of the Kubuntu Council) of any leadership rights on the Kubuntu Council. A few days later, the UCC made a public statement about the issue stating, in part:

"Starting in December of 2013 Jonathan Riddell started a series of communications with the Community Council with regards to IP policy and the community funding program.

...

Over the course of the next two and a half years Jonathan became increasingly confrontational in his interactions with the Community Council over these two items. "

The "IP Policy" mentioned here is referencing an Ubuntu Licensing issue I wrote about back in early 2014. The whole topic borders on the line of reality TV stuff. As OMGUbuntu's Joey-Elijah Sneddon put it, "Such Drama, Much Arrrgh." But, being as this involves the leadership structure of two of the most prominent Linux Distros (Ubuntu and Kubuntu) – and has a potential impact beyond that – it seems worth delving into.

So I sent emails to the Ubuntu Community Council, Jonathan Riddell, and the Kubuntu Council, asking all of them the same four questions. I'm going to include them below – in their entirety – with as little comment from me as possible.

Kubuntu Council opts not to talk

The Kubuntu Council declined to respond to each question, but sent along this statement:

"In the last few days we have all spent a lot of time and energy on making our position clear, and right now we would like to take a step back from the heat to allow us all to refuel our batteries and get a clear head. I hope you understand if we do not comment further on the matter for now, as we feel we have said everything that we had to say.

FWIW, The Kubuntu Council is a democratically elected body (by the Kubuntu community) with no designated leader. Similarly, the Kubuntu community has no de facto leader, so asking Jonathan to step down from leadership seems rather pointless. Also, Jonathan is not a Canonical employee anymore since a few years, when Canonical decided to not sponsor the Kubuntu flavor anymore directly."

UCC and Riddell address the issue rather candidly

Both the Ubuntu Community Council (via council member Michael Hall) and Jonathan Riddell responded to each question. Here are their answers, unedited.

Question: In the framework section of the statement is the line: "disagreements, social and technical, are normal, but we do not allow them to persist and fester." Then, just a few lines below that: "over the course of the next two and a half years Jonathan became increasingly confrontational in his interactions with the Community Council over these two items," which implies that the issues Riddell was focused on "persisted and festered." This implies that the Council failed in the core mission... is that an accurate take away? If not... why not?

Ubuntu Community Council: While there has been an ongoing issue with Jonathan, most of it has been in private communication between him and the CC, so it wasn't hindering or harming the wider Ubuntu community. Given Jonathan's history and importance to Ubuntu, and out of respect for those contributions, we allowed this to continue longer than we otherwise might have, all the while urging him to be more respectful and thoughtful.

However, in the last month or so he began exhibiting more of this behavior in public channels, where it was causing division within our community. We once again attempted to calm the rhetoric and bring things back to a constructive interaction, but that ultimately did not succeed. The constant inappropriate and harmful remarks, while perhaps forgivable each on their own, amassed to the point where it was unbearable to the Community Council. With Jonathan showing no sign of acknowledging the problem, let alone correcting it, the CC was reluctantly forced to act.

Whether we should have taken this action earlier or not will be a question for others to debate. We often have to choose between a set of bad options, and that's a difficult task for volunteers. It's done now, and our focus is on moving forward.

As for the issues themselves, we would have liked to have been able to resolve them sooner and with more clarity. We have been working constantly on both topics since Jonathan brought them to us, and will continue working on them even after his stepping down. We cannot stress enough that this decision had nothing to do with the topics that he raised, but only the way he behaved when interacting with us on them. These are important issues, and we are glad they were brought to us. We encourage anybody who has questions or concerns like these to bring them to us. We just need people to do so in a way that is respectful and follows the Code of Conduct, because that's the only way we'll be able to keep volunteers willing to do this difficult job.

Riddell: Yes. They were two simple but important issues and the Ubuntu CC failed to progress them.

Question: On a similar note, further down the statement, is: "In the end we felt that Jonathan had become unreasonable and was making worst-case assumptions." Does the council not feel that worst-case assumptions are acceptable after two years of no resolutions?

Ubuntu Community Council: It's important to keep in mind that there have been multiple rounds of updates and other communication during this time, mostly with Jonathan directly but sometimes also with others on the Kubuntu Council.

While we were all frustrated at the amount of time it has taken to resolve the license question, at no point was it ever ignored or abandoned. There was enough information about what was happening to know that those worst-case assumptions were wrong, which is why we found it so unreasonable for Jonathan (who had this information) to make the claims and accusations that he did.

The questions about donations were only raised this year, and Canonical has provided us as much information as they have available in an acceptable amount of time. It is unfortunate that they were not able to provide the level of detail that has been requested by the community, but we are satisfied that they have provided as much as they can, and they have made a good faith effort to be open and transparent about it.

Riddell: I've never assumed the worst. On the donations issue I assumed the money donated to community in 2012/2013 was put into the community fund, I was shocked to be told it had not.

Question: Are the two core issues that Riddell raised still issues... or have those been resolved already?

Ubuntu Community Council: The issue of contributions has been addressed with improved accounting on the part of Canonical. There is no way to go back and undo what was done. The Community Council considers that issue closed. We are still waiting for the release of the revised IP policy and until that happens we would not consider the issue closed, but debate about a policy that is being reviewed is counterproductive and potentially divisive.

Riddell: They're as resolved as I ever expected them to be at this stage. The CC [the Ubuntu Community Council] has always feigned ignorance on the licensing issue. I've no idea why, even if they are ignorant of licensing they should be able to see how it would harm the community. On the money issue we now know there's over $140,000 unaccounted for and I don't expect that to change.

Question: How does this get resolved? Where does the CC and Kubuntu community go from here?

Ubuntu Community Council: It is our hope that the Kubuntu Council will reach out to us and engage in a discussion. And our door is open to them and will remain that way. We are confident that we can work together and find an outcome that leads to a stronger, healthier relationship between Kubuntu, the Community Council, and Canonical. There are so many talented, passionate contributors to Kubuntu who are more than capable of keeping it going, even without Jonathan at the helm.

Riddell: I've no idea, I didn't start their silly and stupid slagging match. I'm scunnered.

Shuttleworth holds nothing back

Here's a comment from Mark Shuttleworth (head of Canonical and – as the Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life – a permanent member of the Ubuntu Community Council) from a G+ thread:

"The CC have spent many months trying address complaints raised by Jonathan. He has managed to piss us all off by being disingenuous, dishonest, untrustworthy and unappreciative. In the end we came to the conclusion that he is not working to a constructive goal, and we've had enough."

The phrase "tell me how you really feel" springs to mind.

I'm not an Ubuntu nor Kubuntu user, so I simply don't have a horse in this race (if there even is a race to be had). But I do appreciate the work that both teams put in (separately and together) to both distros and the communities around them. I only personally know a handful of the people involved, but they're all fantastic people and I have absolutely no reason to think anything bad of any of the folks that I don't know.

I have opinions on this. Several. But expressing those opinions now would accomplish nothing (good). And the awesome people involved deserve a chance to sort this out. So, instead of shouting my colorful opinions from the rooftop, I'll just recommend that the Ubuntu and Kubuntu (including Riddell) Councils come together and address the core issue that – I think – is made painfully clear by the answers and quotes above.

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