Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu Community Council ask Kubuntu developer to step down as leader

Friction between the lead Kubuntu developer Jonathan Riddell and Ubuntu reached extreme temperatures on Monday when the Ubuntu Community Council (UCC) asked Riddell to step down from the position of Kubuntu Leader.

lions fighting
Credit: fPat Murray/Flickr

UPDATE: The Kubuntu Council requested Ubuntu Council to provide them with the details of the donations received through the program. The Ubuntu Council has released the number. Over $143,000 was collected in six month, between Oct 2012 and April 2013. The breakdown of donations was: Community: $47,769.58; Flavours: $47,042.42 and Upstream: $48,303.55.

Rohan Garg, a Kubuntu Council member, commented on the public mailing
list: "Just so that I'm reading this correctly, there is no accounting
for a total of 143,000 USD in donations."

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Monday night in a conversation via Google Hangouts, Riddell told me that the bone of contention was a years-long, ongoing inquiry by Riddell about the distribution of donations collected by Canonical from Ubuntu.com.

When a user downloads Ubuntu from the site, there is a PayPal button where a user can choose the amount towards the listed options. Riddell has been inquiring about the status of donations that Canonical/Ubuntu receives through the 'download button.' (Back in 2013 he told me that Kubuntu never received any money from the donations.)The UCC responded that he couldn’t complain about the money he never asked about.

There were accusations and defenses from both sides. It turned out that there was a certain lack of transparency in regards to the distribution of wealth. It’s also undocumented what is actually done with the collected donations, and how flavors like Kubuntu might possibly use those funds.

The UCC coordinated with the Canonical/Ubuntu financial department and came back with a report regarding funds. In most cases the funds were used to pay for travel expenses of developers. Interestingly, there was one incident where the data showed payment to a Kubuntu developer. However, the developer revealed on the mailing list that he never received any money. The UCC responded that that the financial department admitted that the money was never sent due to some communication error, but it stayed on record as spent.

So the picture we get is that there is lack of transparency, clarity and management of funds collected via online donations.

Sadly the whole discussion didn’t go very well with the UCC and Canonical. The UCC contacted Riddell privately asking him to step down from the position of Kubuntu Leader. The message was also sent across to other Kubuntu Council members.

Here is an except from that email that Riddell shared with me (a Kubuntu developer has made all emails public on his blog):

At this time we have sent an email to Jonathan 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. We apologize that this happens just after the election of the Kubuntu Council and are willing to assist in any way to help with the transition.

As far as I am aware there is no leadership position within Kubuntu; Riddell wasn’t sure either.

In order to get the other side of the story, I contacted Michael Hall from the Canonical Community Team. When I asked the same question about whether there is any such position, he said, "I don't think so, it was more of a de facto position that Jonathan held as a result of being (one of?) the project's founders. Officially Kubuntu is governed and lead by the Kubuntu Council, of which Jonathan is one member."

Since there is no such position, the conclusion I draw from the UCC’s communication is that they don’t want Riddell to be the official representative of the Kubuntu community. The bigger question is, who gets to choose the official representative of the community: Canonical or Kubuntu Council?

Riddell responded back yesterday, telling the UCC that he would not step down. He wrote to the UCC, "I refuse your request to step down from the Kubuntu council because I disagree entirely with the accusations against me. I have never been aggressive and claiming that I have, is insulting and bullying. If you wish to pursue this request please send the CC meeting minutes authorising it to the kubuntu-devel mailing list along with concrete examples of breaches of CoC and Leadership CoC."

That’s when Mark Shuttleworth, the founder and funder of Ubuntu, stepped in and said:

The CC is entitled to choose who they will recognise as their counterparts and representatives in sub-communities like Kubuntu. It is untenable for us to ask people to volunteer to the CC, and then expect them to have to work with people who they do not feel are constructive leads; they therefore have the same ability to short-list candidates for leadership of sub-communities that I have for nominations to the CC and TB.

It is therefore not a question of whether or not you accept the CC request to step down. This is a statement from the CC that we no longer recognise you as the leader of the Kubuntu community. This decision has been rather painful, but is judged necessary. Whether or not you agree with the position, it is the final position of the CC.

You may not realise the extent to which your conduct has strayed outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour for a leader in Ubuntu. I would suggest you get the benefit of some distance from the project.

There was a meeting this morning when the Kubuntu Council met to discuss this unfortunate situation. The Kubuntu Council stood behind Riddell to support him fully and said they didn’t find his behavior in violation of Ubuntu Code of Conduct. So what are the grounds on which UCC made that statement? We don’t know yet. What we do know is that this may be yet another dent in Canonical’s relationship with the larger open source community.

As far as the future of Kubuntu is concerned, the project is being funded by Blue Systems so there isn't any financial crisis. Riddell told me this morning that they will continue their business until UCC makes another move. Which means Jonathan Riddell will remain the ‘leader’ of the project.

However if the friction between the two project carries on, Kubuntu may have to consider other options.

There are several options for Kubuntu going forward: 1) They can switch bases and move to Debian, severing themselves from Ubuntu. 2) They can drop the name Kubuntu and become an independent Ubuntu-based project similar to Linux Mint or elementary OS without any ties with Canonical or Ubuntu. 3) They can continue to run the project as-is, ignoring the marching orders from Shuttleworth and the Ubuntu Community Council.

The question I ask is, which will be the best solution for Kubuntu in the long run?

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