Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-12-17/Former COO

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The Wikipedia Signpost

Former Wikimedia employee's criminal history detailed

By Michael Snow, 17 December, 2007

Editor's note: The Wikipedia Signpost is an independent, community newspaper, and is not affiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation. The contents of this page are that of their authors alone, and may not reflect the opinion of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The background of departed Wikimedia Foundation employee Carolyn Doran became the focus of controversy after a story describing her criminal record, as The Register continues its efforts to expose sordid affairs in the internal workings of Wikipedia. While the story was constructed to hint at a connection to the Foundation's audit currently underway, Wikimedia officers downplayed the notion that the news would have any relevance there.

A member of the Wikimedia staff in the St. Petersburg office who did not interact directly with most of the community, Doran left in July with little fanfare. The Board of Trustees subsequently indicated that she had resigned and entered into a confidentiality agreement with the organization (such agreements serve to guard against former employees and employers disparaging each other). As a result, Wikimedia officials generally declined to elaborate on the precise circumstances that led to her termination of employment.

Criminal records

Records of a Virginia court case show that not long after her resignation, Doran was arrested on a bench warrant for an alleged probation violation. The underlying matter, a hit and run case while driving under the influence that predates her Wikimedia employment, was highlighted by The Register, which charged that "Wikipedia's million-dollar check book was balanced by a convicted felon." The Register further claimed, "Her record also included convictions for passing bad checks, theft, petty larceny, additional DUIs, and unlawfully wounding her boyfriend with a gun shot to the chest." The 1990 unlawful wounding conviction was covered in the Washington Post; in her plea bargain, Doran's lawyer made the argument that the situation was one of a battered woman defending herself.

Note: The Signpost could not confirm all of Doran's past convictions in every state, as listed by the Register, without the time and expense for a professional criminal history check. A number of the cases are more than a decade old and under her maiden name; records may not always be publicly available online. What could be determined is a history of DUI cases from multiple states.

As an analysis by Andrew Gray suggested, it was not clear that any of the incidents during her employment (a DUI arrest, a reported stop by immigration officials when returning from a Wikimedia meeting in Amsterdam) would necessarily have come to the organization's attention. Jimmy Wales denied knowing about the immigration stop. Wikimedia attorney Mike Godwin said, in response to complaints that the Foundation should have informed the community itself, that he had only a couple hours' notice of the Register story, and at the time the organization had nothing to document Doran's criminal convictions apart from what the Register had told him.

Doran's Wikimedia career

Doran was originally hired for bookkeeping help through a temporary staffing agency, later converted to a permanent employee, and ultimately given the title of Chief Operating Officer. Wikimedia board chair Florence Devouard indicated that neither Wikimedia nor the agency that initially provided her ever conducted a background check on Doran. Her promotion to COO came during a significant reorganization period in January, which also involved Brad Patrick vacating his temporary post as Executive Director to act as General Counsel only. The job description for Doran's position included some of the operational necessities created by Patrick's shift (responsibility for fiscal administration, office management), but indicated that the position would be subordinate to the future Executive Director.

The duties of Wikimedia's COO would further evolve with the opening advertised after her departure, which called for additional qualifications and responsibilities. Even disregarding any criminal record, it seems likely Doran would not have qualified for the position as ultimately contemplated. Her Wikimedia career reflects the organization's continuing evolution, using often underqualified and overtaxed staff, into a gradually more professional institution with the appointment of Sue Gardner as Executive Director. As Godwin put it, "Carolyn served the Foundation in an important transitional period, and we wish her well."

Subsequent steps

According to Godwin, the Wikimedia Foundation now has an arrangement in place to allow background checks on incoming employees, including those from outside the United States. Aside from the issue of having procedures in place to prevent such a situation happening again, the primary concerns people raised were the implications for Wikimedia finances.

As mentioned, the Foundation is currently going through an audit, which is an annual process considered part of the expected routine for professionally run nonprofit organizations. It was not prompted by anything related to Doran's departure, although the auditor's report would presumably deal with the issue if it discovered any wrongdoing on her part. Jimmy Wales pledged that if the audit turned up any evidence of theft, he would personally reimburse the Wikimedia Foundation for any losses. Wales emphasized, though, that he did not expect such a discovery and anticipated his promise would ultimately cost him nothing.

Also this week:

From the editor — Former COO — Möller move — Google Knol — WikiWorld — News and notes — In the news — WikiProject report — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report

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