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Aussie gov refuses to spill the beans on ICANN vice chair’s firing

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2017, Domain Policy

The Australian government has refused to release documents concerning alleged “financial irregularities” at local ccTLD manager auDA that have been linked to the firing of former CEO Chris Disspain.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act sought documents detailing Disspain’s March 2016 termination, as well as high levels of travel expenses and apparent under-reporting of “fringe benefit tax” under his watch.

The request was filed in September by by industry consultant Ron Andruff, who is known to have beef with Disspain after having been passed over for an important ICANN leadership role.

One of the specific documents sought by Andruff was an unpublished audit by PPB Advisory known to have uncovered slack historical expenses management practices and high levels of travel expenditure.

While rumors have circulated, there have been no substantiated allegations of wrongdoing by Disspain.

The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts told Andruff this weekend that 13 relevant documents had been identified and reviewed, but that all were exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act.

Reasons given include the right to privacy of the individual concerned and the fact that the information could fuel “unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct”.

The Department also thought that disclosing the documents could make it harder to it to obtain information from auDA in future, particularly relevant given that it recently kicked off a review of the organization.

While acknowledging there were some public interest reasons to publish the documents, on balance it said that the public interest reasons not to publish were more numerous.

auDA has been plagued by problems such as high turnover of staff and board, unpopular policies, and the member-instigated ouster of its chair, since Disspain left.

Separately, Disspain became ICANN’s vice chair earlier this month, having sat on the board for the last seven years as a representative of the ccTLD community.

He’s one of four community-nominated ICANN directors who have agreed to undergo the same background checks as their Nominating Committee-appointed counterparts, in part due to pressure applied by Andruff.

The FOI response can be viewed here (pdf).

ICANN beefs up background checks on directors amid concerns about vice-chair

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN is to beef up background screening procedures for its own board of directors after concerns were raised about financial integrity.

Directors in four seats that were not previously subject to screening have voluntarily agreed to checks “immediately” and ICANN has urged two of its supporting organizations to bring in such checks as standard.

Chris Disspain and Mike Silber, selected by the Country Code Names Supporting Organization, and Generic Names Supporting Organization selectees Becky Burr and Matthew Shears are these volunteers.

Neither the GNSO nor ccNSO currently screen their director picks to the same standard as other supporting organizations and the Nominating Committee.

ICANN said that they will be checked for “negative indicators such as discrepancies on a resume (including licenses, educational history and employment history), or publicly reported issues of financial mismanagement, fraud, harassment and mishandling of confidential information”.

The board passed a resolution last Thursday calling for the two SOs to bring in “the same or similar” screening procedures for future directors.

The resolution was passed minutes before the formal handover of power from outgoing chair Steve Crocker to new chair Cherine Chalaby. Disspain is the new vice-chair, replacing Chalaby.

ICANN had been put under pressure to widen its director due diligence earlier in the week by consultant and long-time ICANN community member Ron Andruff, who is known to have concerns about Disspain’s financial integrity.

Andruff spoke at an open-mic session with the board last Monday to recommend that the four anomalous directors face screening before the board was re-seated just a few days later.

“We’re talking about risk,” he said. “We’re talking about making sure that we do not put our institution that we’ve worked so hard to put into ICANN 2.0 in a place where we have four people that might have something, or not. And quite frankly, I don’t expect we’re going to find anything. I just want to make sure that we’ve checked that box,” Andruff said.

“We have the resources to do four background screenings between now and Thursday. No one expects any issues to surface. But this simple act will ensure that the institution is properly protected,” Andruff said.

Then-chair Crocker responded that it would not be possible to do the checks so quickly, but agreed in principle with the need for screening and said the board had had “substantial discussions” on the matter.

Andruff is former chair-elect of the Nominating Committee, which chooses eight directors and subjects all of its appointees to background screening.

He recently made a Freedom of Information Act request in Australia related to the circumstances leading to Disspain getting fired as CEO of local ccTLD administrator auDA in March 2016.

Disspain was let go after his relationship with the auDA board became “increasingly strained over issues of process, transparency and accountability”, according to an external review published by auDA in October last year.

auDA’s practices had “not kept pace with auDA’s growth in scale and importance to the Australian community, nor with evolving good practice in governance and accountability”, this review found.

The review did not directly allege any wrongdoing by Disspain.

A separate and currently unpublished review around the same time by PPB Advisory found that auDA had been “under-reporting” so-called “fringe benefit tax” to the Aussie tax authorities, according to auDA board meeting minutes.

FBT is tax companies must pay on employee benefits such as a company car or payment of private expenses.

There’s no clear indication in the public record that this under-reporting was directly related to benefits Disspain received, though the under-reporting very likely happened at least partially during his 15 years as CEO.

A slide deck discussing the PPB review published by auDA identified “a lack of formal policies and procedures governing how travel and expenses were managed”.

It added: “There were high levels of expenditure on international travel and reimbursement arrangements with international bodies that lacked transparency, which should have warranted a more robust process”.

All expenses incurred by ICANN’s directors and reimbursed in relation to their duties are a matter of public record.

Disspain receives not only a $45,000 annual salary but also tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements each year, much of which is related to directors’ extensive travel obligations, these records show.

In its last reported tax year, to June 30, 2016, he received $68,437 in reimbursements, according to a published document (pdf). ICANN directly paid another $32,951 on his behalf.

A number of allegations have been made to DI (and, I believe, to other bloggers) over the last few months about alleged wrongdoing by Disspain in connection to these nuggets of information, but they’ve come from sources who refuse to identify themselves or provide corroborating evidence.

Despite efforts, I’ve been unable to independently verify these anonymous claims, which come amid turbulent times for auDA and its members, so I’ve chosen not to repeat them.

Andruff, meanwhile, has used FOI law to ask the Australian government, which has oversight of auDA, for the full PPB report, as well as documents related to the FBT issue, Disspain’s termination and his travel expenses.

Andruff and Disspain are known to have a history of friction.

Two years ago, Andruff expressed his anger after having been passed over for the job of chair of the NomCom, a role that be believes should have gone to him as chair-elect.

He lost the opportunity after the ICANN board, exercising its bylaws-permitted discretion, accepted the recommendation of its Board Governance Committee — at the time chaired by Disspain — that it be given to Stephane Van Gelder instead.

The original deadline for the Australian government response to Andruff’s FOI request was October 16, but this has been extended twice, now to November 19, due to the complexity of the request.

The eventual response will no doubt be read with interest.

In harsh tones, ccNSO rejects NomCom appointee

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Country Code Names Supporting Organization has rejected the appointment to its Council of a Canadian registry director.

Saying NomCom ignored long-standing guidance to avoid appointing registry employees, the ccNSO Council has said the recent naming of Marita Moll to the role is “unacceptable”.

Moll will have to choose between sitting on the Council and being a director of .ca registry CIRA, the Council said in a letter to NomCom and the ICANN board.

Three of the Council’s 18 voting members are selected by NomCom. The rest are elected from ccTLD registries, three from each of ICANN’s five geographic regions.

To maintain balance, and promote independent views, the Council told NomCom most recently back in 2012 that it should refrain from appointing people connected to ccTLD registries.

The new Council letter (pdf) reads:

Council’s view (none dissenting) is that your Committee’s proposed selection directly contravenes this requirement, notwithstanding the clear and explicit assurance we received in 2012 from the then Chair of Nominating Committee that the Committee would be “avoiding any member already belonging to the ccTLD management participating in the ccNSO”.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that CIRA already has representation on the Council in the form of CEO Byron Holland.

The letter concludes that the conflict is “irreconcilable” and the appointment “unacceptable”.

As the ccNSO does not appear to have refusal powers on NomCom appointees, it will presumably be up to Moll to decline the appointment.

Andruff fuming after ICANN leadership snub

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2015, Domain Policy

Long-time ICANN volunteer Ron Andruff has complained to the ICANN board of directors after he was passed over for a key leadership position.

Andruff this week filed a Request for Reconsideration after the board appointed Stephane van Gelder chair of the ICANN Nominating Committee for a second year, despite Andruff serving as “chair-elect” in the 2015 NomCom.

According to ICANN bylaws, it is “anticipated” that NomCom chairs-elect take over from their chairs each year, but the board has the “discretion” to pick somebody entirely different.

That’s discretion the board exercised last week when it picked Van Gelder, executive VP at new gTLD registry Starting Dot, to continue on as chair.

Andruff was replaced as chair-elect by Hans Petter Holen, who comes from the IP address side of the community.

NomCom is tasked with the selection of three ICANN board members each year. The chair and chair-elect positions are picked by the ICANN board, but are non-voting.

Now Andruff’s mad that “a subset of mean-spirited and targeted attacks on my reputation by a few individuals” have cost him the chair’s gig. He said the board:

is meddling in the affairs of the supposedly independent Nominating Committee. Interfering with successful and efficient processes within the body that selects 2-3 Board members each year is not only wholly unnecessary, it triggers suspicion about the very independence of the Nom Com. It is also likely to deter others from volunteering their time and energy within the NomCom and other ICANN bodies as they become aware of how review processes that are supposed to foster self-improvement can instead be used to unfairly tarnish reputations.

The ICANN board seems to have come to its decision based at least in part on the results of a “360-degree” evaluation of Andruff by his NomCom peers.

These reviews invite committee members to score each other based on criteria such as leadership skills, honesty and good judgment.

The anonymous comments attached to the scores can be both fawning and really rather scathing.

A perfect score would be 55. Andruff scored 42.3.

Van Gelder scored 50.1 this year and 49.7 when he was in Andruff’s position last year.

Andruff’s report card also seems to contain more negative, and more negative, written comments than Van Gelder’s.

A minority of respondents questioned his neutrality, leadership skills and tone. A sample:

Ron constantly provided negative, arbitrary comments which carried underlying messages that he is the hardest worker in the group – more so than anyone else. He appeared to be a bully toward other members on many occasions – very opinionated and controlling, particularly about process. Ron does not use his influence appropriately regarding candidates. There is concern about his ability next year to separate his constituencies’ interests from the supposed independent role of the NomCom Chair. His style of using influence is often neither appropriate nor effective.

Andruff takes issue with the fact that the board chose to use his 360 review at all. In his RfR, he writes:

the reviews were intended to be a tool for improvement, rather than a basis for disqualification. That is especially true in regard to a review such as my own, which was strong overall while revealing a few areas that could be a focus for further improvement.

He also says he was told by an ICANN director that he “lacks cultural sensitivity”, a claim that he says came without any evidence.

He wrote:

I have absolutely no doubt, based on my personal interactions as well as the result of the 360 review, that if my ascension to Chair was put to a vote of the Nom Com members with whom I have served over the past year I would win by a substantial margin.

Andruff is CEO of his own firm, ONR Consulting, which also goes by the name ICANN Sherpa, and he’s worried that the board’s snub will cost him business.

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which made the original recommendation to reappoint Van Gelder and remove Andruff, intends to discuss Andruff’s complaint on Sunday.

Documentation on NomCom 2015, including the 360 reviews, can be found here.

ICANN board getting three new directors

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN 51 next month in Los Angeles is also the organization’s formal annual general meeting, and that means changes at the top.

The board of directors is replacing three members in October, and renewing the terms of two others.

Long-time ICANN participant and internet governance expert Markus Kummer has been selected for a seat by the Non-Contracted Parties House of the Generic Names Supporting Organization.

Kummer is currently vice president of public policy at the Internet Society. Prior to that, he was at the United Nations with the primary responsibility for organizing the Internet Governance Forum.

He replaces independent consultant Bill Graham, who’s leaving the board after one three-year term. Graham, until going solo in 2011, also held a senior position at ISOC.

Rinalia Abdul Rahim is to join the board as the new representative of the At Large, having beaten incumbent Sebastien Bachollet in elections early this year.

Based in Malaysia, Rahim is managing director at Compass Rose, her self-founded management consultancy. Between 2011 and 2013, she was a NomCom appointee to the At-Large Advisory Committee.

The last addition is Asha Hemrajani, a Nokia alum and currently a partner at the small Singapore-based business consultancy Knight Griffin. She was selected by the Nominating Committee.

Hemrajani replaces Wolfgang Kleinwachter, who will leave the seat after less than a year. Kleinwachter stepped in to replace Judith Vazquez, who mysteriously quit two years into her three-year term.

NomCom has, unsurprisingly, selected ICANN chair Steve Crocker for a board seat again. Under the ICANN bylaws, it will be Crocker’s third and final three-year term.

Chris Disspain of auDA will also begin his second term, having stood unopposed for one of the two ccNSO seats.

The changes take effect at the end of the LA meeting, which runs from October 12 to 16.

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