Bonum Certa Men Certa

Ean Schuessler, Branden Robinson & Debian SPI accounting crisis

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Apr 23, 2024

[Article 1 year old]

Reprinted with permission from

This email leak from the debian-private (leaked) gossip network hardly needs any comment.

Debian will celebrate our 30th anniversary this year on Debian Day, coincidentally, the anniversary of the Debian Day volunteer suicide.

In 30 years, Debian and SPI have never provided a consolidated financial report for all Debian-related financial resources, revenues and expenses.

Subject: Disclosure.
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2004 18:34:36 -0500
From: Ean Schuessler <>
Organization: Software in the Public Interest, Inc.
CC: SPI Board of Directors <>

Hello Everyone,
As most of you know the SPI corporation has spent the last several years slowly disintegrating. It has now been reduced to the butt of jokes and is typically an object of scorn. Many Debianers seem to feel a sense of pride in this scorn, presumably as if they are somehow above the dirty details of how monetary affairs are managed. This is attitude is both dangerous and deeply regrettable.
Today, I am the President of your corporation. Debian's legal welfare lies literally in my very hands. It is probable that many of you have no idea how I arrived in this position or what degree of damage I could do from where I sit. Even more disheartening is the fact that some of you may not even care. Debian must wake up and help me fight if you care about what we are doing.
Free Software does not exist in a vacuum. We cannot turn our backs on the real world with all its greed, bureaucracy and politics. The real world is inescapable and will come to us on its terms if we ignore it.
All of Debian's money, all of its copyrights and all of its trademarks are owned by SPI. If control of SPI is lost or SPI collapses then the Debian would lose title to its machines, its code and its very name. The project would be shattered and in the confusion it might never recover. It would effectively cease to exist. (Bruce calls this kind of pragmatic talk "scare tactics")
Branden Robinson took on the task of managing SPI's finances when Darren showed that he could not cut the mustard. He soon found that he was overwhelmed as badly as Darren was. He called for help and no one came. By the time I could help him there was so much damage done that he was embarrassed to let anyone see how badly things had gone. He delayed my repairs a few more months.
But before you any of you lynch poor old Mr. Robinson I would remind you that he did more than most of you have. His only sin was underestimating his task after a wise man like Bdale had warned him otherwise. I'm sure that many of you have failed to pay a bill, file a form or neglected the clerical routines of your daily life. Keeping track of SPI is a hundred times worse. Be careful about casting the first stone.
That brings us closer to the present. Once Branden finally swallowed his pride and delivered the papers to me I was able to take action. My mother Anita, who is also Brainfood's bookkeeper, set things right in short order. She can tear through a filing or accounting problem the way a programmer chews through code. As Bruce has already let slip, the damage is bad, more than $18,000 of potential income has been lost to lack of process and inattention. This damage is something that all of us must take responsibility for. It took every board member, every SPI member and every Debianer who didn't care enough to attention to make this happen. We all have a hand in it.
I will say I find it ironic that Bruce is the one to let that number slip. Bruce spent a fair amount of energy delaying my work by claiming that I wasn't following due process. He blocked me from bringing this news a month ago by ordering me to "work with my board and Treasurer". Now he has let the number leak without any board authorization at all. He also looks like he is trying to give Branden a good scalping. This seems consistent with people trying to take credit rather than responsibility. The problem is central to SPI's failures.
So that brings us mostly up to date. I have received the financial papers. I have had my staff process them, sort them and file them. I have been ordered to obey processes by the board and have stopped my activities unless ordered otherwise. The board is more concerned with unimportant details than actually solving the problem or are simply not participating. No resolutions have been passed. My hands have been tied and my activities have effectively stopped.
This is what should happen:
- Publish a full copy of all the board correspondence relating to this issue to the Debian membership.
- Release a report of the uncashed checks to the Debian membership with the personal information removed.
- Bring Brainfood's resources back into action by recruiting some local trustworthy Linuxers in as volunteer labor to finish the process of scanning the mail.
- Get Adam Heath or myself to do a mail merge with the database of uncashed check clients.
- Print apology letters for each of the unfortunate people whose checks we did not cash.
- Use those same recruits to print, sign and stuff the hundreds of letters that must be sent out.
- Get every Debianer concerned with improving SPI (like revoke Developer status for people who do not vote or something).
- Send up a GR for immediate re-election of all SPI officers (including myself) complete with platforms and the usual election hooplah. (perhaps this should occur after a strategy meeting at DebConf)
- Use GRs or whatever other mechanisms are necessary to retool SPI into a reasonable and effective instrument for the Debian organization with Debian as its first priority.
That's about all I have for now. I look forward to your opinions.
ps. If you would like to send a thank you note to Anita for all her work drop her a line at anita at brainfood dot com. Be nice though. She's my mom.
-- Ean Schuessler, President Software in the Public Interest, Inc.

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