OTW 2015 Board Election

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Event: 2015 OTW Board Election
Name(s): Organization for Transformative Works (OTW)
Date(s): September-November 2015, voting 6-9 November, results 10 November, post-election meeting 22 November,
Type: Election
Fandom: panfandom
URL: OTW Elections site, FAQ, Main OTW site
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The 2015 Organization for Transformative Works Board of Directors election was the first contested election since 2011, with eight candidates - later six - standing for two positions. Atiya Hakeem and Matty Bowers won the election and started their Board terms on December 1, 2015.[1] Three more of the candidates were later appointed to fill vacancies.[2]

The original candidates include six who had not served on the Board - Alex Tischer, Aline Carrão, Atiya Hakeem, Daniel Lamson, Katarina Harju and Matty Bowers - and two previous Directors - Andrea Horbinski and Nikisha Sanders. They were publicly announced by the Elections Committee on September 14.

OTW members - people who had paid the USD$10 membership fee - were eligible to vote electronically between 6 and 9 November. On November 10, the Elections committee announced the 2015 Election Results.

In a November 22 open meeting following the elections, the remaining members of the old Board appointed the last place candidate to an "open" seat (which was not put up for election)[3]. Many members and volunteers objected, and the Elections committee posted Board Appointment of Last Place Candidate to Empty Board Seat. Later the same day, the remaining members of the Board posted their own resignation: Board of Directors Update, leaving a short handover period to the two new members, who posted their own statement: Update from OTW Board Members-Elect[4].

Candidates' Platforms

Issues raised by the candidates include transparency, finances, Board functions, sustainability and volunteering conditions.

See the 2015 Elections Candidates Announcement for candidate bios and manifestos.

Date of membership eligibility and fundraising drive

In previous years, the October fundraising drive was timed so that anyone who donated during the drive would be eligible to vote in the election a couple of weeks later. This year, the timing of the drive and election were changed slightly, and anyone who hadn't donated before the drive was not eligible. Some people felt that this was unfair or disingenuous[citation needed].

Removal and withdrawal of candidates

In a very controversial decision, the current Board declared Nikisha Sanders ineligible to run. The Elections committee posted the announcement on September 27, but phrased it in such a way that everyone understood that the Elections committee had objected to the decision, but had been overridden by the Board.[5] The Board claimed that because Sanders had resigned from her OTW Treasurer role, she was not currently a staffer and so did not meet the criteria to run. It was not clear whether the sitting candidate Andrea Horbinski had recused herself from involvement in this decision. To make matters more complicated, Sanders' account of her resignation makes it clear that the Board had basically fired her, within days of her candidacy being announced. (Her resignation was publicly announced on September 16, but announced to volunteers on September 14, the same day as the candidate announcement post. Presumably, both the firing and internal knowledge of her intended candidacy predate September 14.)

Meanwhile, Sanders stated[6] that she had not resigned from a staff position she also held on the Development and Membership committee - making her still eligible - and was "entitled either to remain with DevMem or be removed through proper channels with a CCAP [Constructive Corrective Action Procedure]." The Board's argument was that her involvement in DevMem was inextricably linked to her Treasurer role and that therefore they did not need CCAP to remove her.

Five candidates (Alex Tischer, Aline Carrão, Atiya Hakeem, Katarina Harju and Matty Bowers) condemned the Board's actions in an open letter on tumblr the next day.[7]

On September 27, Daniel Lamson, a friend of Sanders, withdrew his candidacy. The announcement was made on September 30. In his withdrawal letter, he said, "I feel that the friendships I have cultivated in the org are more important to me than my possible election to Board of Directors, and are not worth sacrificing to win."

Fannish discussion

There was a lot of discussion in fannish spaces on twitter, tumblr, and especially the Fail_Fandomanon community (FFA) on Dreamwidth about who to vote for, who not to vote for, problems with the Board and OTW's culture in general, as well as controversies that arose during the election process. Many people argued that neither Andrea Horbinski nor Nikisha Sanders should be re-elected. Some people described problems with their past actions, and a former Board member argued that given the contagiously toxic history of the Board, no one who had ever been on the Board should be re-elected. FFA had extensive discussion of this in September and October 2015.[8]

A tumblr account, otwelections-unofficial, was created specifically to track discussion and provide information about the election. The first post outlined problems with OTW's current state of affairs and advocated for people to vote in the election.[9]

After the Election - Board Resignations

The election appears to have run smoothly[10], and the winning candidates were duly announced within a day of the polls closing on November 9. 621 people (approximately 8% of the membership) voted.[11]

On November 22, all hell broke loose. The first Board meeting following the election was held in the org's Public Discussion online chat room. The Board normally meets every week or two and has an "open" portion during which staff, volunteers, and members of the public are invited to attend.[12] The Board may retire to a different chat room to discuss confidential matters in a "closed" session. With no advance notice and no explanation, during its November 22 open meeting, the Board voted to appoint Andrea to fill the Board position vacated by Anna Genoese in 2014 (term ending December 2016).

Outcry from staff, volunteers, and members in the chat room was immediate, and people soon started calling for a vote of no confidence in the Board[13]. The Board retired to its closed session after trying to no avail to tell users to hold their questions until the end. News spread quickly from users in the open chat to social media. The Elections Committee made a post titled Board Appointment of Last Place Candidate to Empty Board Seat[14] and revealed how all candidates had fared in the election. By number of votes received:

  1. Matty Bowers
  2. Atiya Hakeem
  3. Alex Tischer
  4. Katarina Harju
  5. Aline Carrão
  6. Andrea Horbinski

According to chat room logs, the offending vote was held around 20:10 UTC. Board minutes show that the closed session ended at 21:00 UTC.[15] Three and a half hours after the vote (23:45 UTC), it was announced that the entire sitting Board would resign, effective December 15, but that those who also held positions on committees would retain those staff positions.[16]

Many people characterized the Board's attempt to appoint Andrea as a blatant power grab[17][18][19] and highly disrespectful to the election process, the OTW staff, and the org membership[20]. It was noted that Anna's seat could have been filled by appointment at any point during the entire year it was empty, or through the election that had just happened, or that, as the Elections Committee said, the Board could have followed precedent in appointing the election's runner-up. It was also noted that a recent change in the by-laws meant that a two-thirds majority of the Board could dismiss a Board member without cause[21] and that reappointing Andrea would have given the current Board members the power to get rid of the newly elected members[22]. Some people speculated that embezzling could be happening[23], but others argued that the Board was so isolated and that OTW culture was so toxic that the Board could easily have decided in all sincerity that re-appointing Andrea was a good idea[24]. Also at issue was whether Andrea being allowed to vote for herself was a conflict of interest.

There was some debate as to whether the Board's subsequent resignation indicated that the Board had realized the error of their ways or whether it was a simple flounce.[citation needed] Many people agreed that regardless of why they did it, the Board quitting was the right thing to do and that the OTW had been given an opportunity for a fresh start.[17][25]

Because the resignations left the Board with only two members as of December 15, at the December 16 meeting, three candidates - Alex Tischer, Aline Carrão, and Katarina Harju - were appointed to serve the remainder of the outgoing Board members' terms (two years), with two Board seats to remain empty until the 2016 election.[2] As of December 16, the 2016 Board consists entirely of the five candidates who had previously written an open letter condemning the Board's removal of Sanders from the election.

November 22, 2015 Open Meeting Transcript

A transcript of the November 22 open meeting can be found here and here; archived here.

A pdf of the chat is also available on Fanlore: File:Campfire, November 22.pdf. For comparison, see the pdf of the non-contentious December 16 chat during which three candidates were appointed to the Board: File:Campfire Today, December 16.pdf.


Official posts:

Tumblr reactions:

Dreamwidth reactions:


  1. 2015 Election Results 10 November, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 OTW Board of Directors Update, Archived version, posted to the OTW News site 16 December 2015. OTW Board of Directors Update, Archived version, reposted at AO3 News.
  3. Board Appointment of Last Place Candidate to Empty Board Seat
  4. posted November 25, 2015 to the AO3 News (archived) and OTW News (archived) sites
  5. Announcement from OTW Board about 2015 Ballot, Archived version The announcement began with "The Elections Committee has been directed by the OTW's Board of Directors to post the following text" and ended with "Any comments will be submitted to the Board for response, as the Elections Commitee is not allowed to discuss the topic on this site without the approval of the Board and the Legal Committee." An anon at Fail_Fandomanon commented sarcastically, "Yeah, totally aboveboard and definitely not a gag order in any way, shape or form. Elections isn't allowed to talk about elections?" 2015-9-27 comment thread.
  6. sanders. Update on OTW mess, posted to Dreamwidth 26 September 2015. archive.is
  7. posted to the otwelections-unofficial blog on tumblr, 27 September 2015. wayback machine
  8. FFA discussions
  9. AO3 needs your voice!, posted September 16th 2015.
  10. There was a short delay in opening the polls, as announced on the Elections site, but this doesn't seem to have made waves on social media. Election Delay, Archived version
  11. Election Statistics for 2015, Archived version
  12. Though one of the criticisms of the 2015 Board was that they had many meetings with no open session at all. This was the first meeting since October 18 with an open session[1]--before that, September 4 [2]; before that, August 14[3].
  13. For example: I would like a vote of no confidence in the board of the OTW. by tumblr user (and OTW staff member) zz9pzza, posted November 22, 2015. archived.
  14. archived. otw-news repost. The Elections post appears to have been made just 10 minutes before the official word that the Board was resigning, so the Board would not have seen it before deciding to resign (though they could have known that Elections was going to make a post). Likewise, it appears that Elections committee did not know about the resignation at the time of posting.
  15. Board Meeting Minutes: 22 November 2015, Archived version
  16. Board of Directors Update, posted to the OTW News site 22 November 2015 - 11:47pm (UTC).
  17. 17.0 17.1 For example, see this comment by jamethiel in beatrice_otter's dreamwidth post: "I'm not sure whether the appointment of Andrea H to the board was incompetence ("Oh, we know her and know we can work with her") or a naked power grab ("this will ensure we have a majority against the new brooms") but either way it was extremely shady and was against precedent. I'm glad it didn't succeed, and whether the board flounced because they felt unappreciated or were just burned out, I think it's the best thing."
  18. From a former board member on dreamwidth: "The preservation of you power seems to be the only consideration at play."
  19. from tumblr user stopthatimp: "this is corrupt immature bullshit. are you fucking kidding me? act like grownups and stop this petty-ass power-grabbing delusional fucking asshole borderline fraud responsibility dodging HORSESHIT." (archived)
  20. For example, see comments by myconvergence ("In what was probably one of the most willfully unethical and disrespectful decisions any Board of the OTW has ever made...") and Renay ("I have never seen such egregious abuse of power and disrespect of volunteers and members as I have witnessed today by the OTW Board.") in a tumblr thread started by otwelections-unofficial. See also the File:Campfire, November 22.pdf, in which the words disrespect and disrespectful are uttered by several people, including Lady Oscar, who says, "As a Board member elect, I would like to state for the record that I think this is unethical, disturbing, and disrespectful to the entire OTW and all its members." Also see this dreamwidth post in which a former board member posted the email she sent to the Board, which included the line "With your decision, you held the membership in contempt."
  21. Board Meeting Minutes: 14 August 2015, Archived version: Voted unanimously to amend Article V §15 of the OTW bylaws to provide for removal of directors by a vote of the Board, as well as to clarify the rights of the membership with respect to removal of directors. This vote requires an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation, which the Board will now proceed with. Organization for Transformative Works — Bylaws, Archived version: A director may be removed, with or without cause, at a meeting of the Board of Directors by a two-thirds majority vote of the directors then in office.
  22. In a November 22 tumblr reblog, otwelections-unofficial (archived) noted that, "Now with Horbinski’s appointment they’re not only ignoring elections results and instating someone who most definitely came nowhere near third, but also ensuring that current Board members continue to hold a majority sufficient to drown out, silence and kick out the two actual legitimate elected directors without cause whenever they feel like it." Users in the chat itself had made similar speculations about the Board's next move: "Can we now look forward to them removing the new members and appointing those they'd prefer?"
  23. FFA comments: This is why people are starting to wonder if the Board has actually been embezzling money - because they are in a position where they have completely legit and above-board (heh) expenses claims but are refusing to account for them. 2015-11-23; So do you think that the two remaining board members will get all the info on the embezzlement that has clearly been taking place, or will it just come as a surprise when they go to do the taxes in January? 2015-11-23
  24. FFA comment: Honestly I don't think this was the power-grab that some people think it was. I suspect the rest of the Board like Horbinski, and saw things going on behind the scenes that they (probably incorrectly) felt couldn't be shared with the rest of the org.... I think it's clear that the Board was already extremely dissociated and removed from the rest of the staff and committees of the Org. Again, it's easy to think that the "attacks" are coming from a small group of members, and really easy to completely misunderstand why people are upset. 2015-11-23 comment
  25. Why a “clean slate” Board is the best for the OTW, tumblr post by myconvergence, 23 November 2015.
  26. archived