auDA Rudderless As CEO “Resignation” Follows Chair’s Walk Out

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Tuesday’s sudden departure of the auDA CEO comes during a protracted period of turmoil at the .au policy and regulatory body and leaves nobody at the .au policy and regulatory body in positions to make key decisions on policy, marketing or spending, and with the introduction of second level registrations looming in the fourth quarter of 2019, the new rules still haven’t been announced.

In what can only be described as a tribute that was over the top in its praise of the controversial CEO, himself appointed after the controversial ousting of the founding CEO Chris Disspain, the auDA statement announcing Boardman’s departure gushes on his achievements, including “development and implementation of new Licensing Rules for .au second-level domain names, and the introduction of direct registration of .au.” With second level registrations due to be introduced within a few months and despite the auDA Board’s inference that Boardman’s “job is done” there is still much to do. Boardman himself said in the recent auDA Quarterly Report: Q2 2019 report that:

The biggest project on auDA’s immediate horizon is the implementation of second level registrations as recommended by the Policy Review Panel. Key to its delivery is the development of a national marketing and public awareness campaign which will build upon the public awareness generated during the policy development process. This project will be the biggest marketing project in auDA’s history and involves not just the uptake of second level .au names, but also building a comprehensive brand for the .au domain more widely.

Registrars are seething as policies and procedures are still to be implemented and end users, for the ones with an interest, are even less well informed. However registrars are reticent to speak on the record due to contractual arrangements. But Domain Pulse is aware of lists of complaints from registrars sent to auDA which appear to be never acted upon. And with the upcoming introduction of second level registrations, Boardman had promised on several occasions that all current registrants would be contacted, and yet it still hasn’t happened. With no CEO and Chair, one wonders what the future is for second level registrations as policies haven’t been finalised and little implemented.

It begs the question, why would Boardman leave of his own volition with still so much to do? Sources have indicated that of course, he didn’t actually resign but his hand was forced by a “reluctant” Board that certainly wouldn’t like having to go public with an ugly termination from a company that is already under the microscope of the Department of Communications and the internet using public.

Incredibly, the announcement saw no interim CEO announced at what, for end users at least, is leading up to the biggest change in the organisation’s history with the implementation of second level registrations.

Bruce Tonkin, the current COO, should have been a walk up start for the CEO position, especially after the plaudits he received in the Statement from the Board. Again, why wasn’t he? Or was there an issue and auDA would have been faced with 2 “resignations”?

Whatever is going on it once again showcases an inept Board and casts a dark shadow over the conduct of the Executive. It’s not like it was the first time either: there have been allegations Board meeting minutes have been altered after publication, sackings of staff members that spoke out against the CEO’s activities, the former Company Secretary compiled a report that ultimately led to their effective sacking and also in Boardman’s suspension of employment. All of these things highlight a pattern of concern for the Department of Communications and the Arts and the domain name community as a whole.

Boardman’s departure comes just 6 weeks after Chair Chris Leptos departed and a terse announcement that followed his abrupt departure. The departure of both means there is no Chair or CEO. Just the “current executive team [who] will collectively carry out the CEO’s responsibilities.” A recent Quarterly Report makes no mention of Leptos and his departure. It will be interesting to see if the same treatment is applied to the departing CEO upon his departure.

Then there’s the reconstitution of the auDA Board, a process that was announced on the same day as the Chair’s abrupt departure. The new Board is to consist of 6 independent directors, one of whom will be the independent Chair, plus 4 elected directors. So, in short order, we will have a new Chair, a new CEO and a new Board, right at the time when .au is going through its single biggest change. Is it time for the current auDA Board, all of which have been tarnished by Boardman, to resign and for the Department of Communications and the Arts to take a stronger position in the future of the .au namespace? It is just too damn important to leave in in the hands of the incompetent and the inept.

Going forward, what of auDA? One can expect their first test in the international community will be the APTLD meeting in Malaysia in September. And then because of the Sri Lankan bombings, auDA is hosting the APTLD meeting in February 2020. There’s also an ICANN community meeting to be held in November 2019 which auDA is hosting. There is also the lack of input in the international community. As far as Domain Pulse can ascertain, auDA is contributing to zero ICANN working groups when they used to be such a contributor. They do have a Strategic Adviser, Head of Government Affairs. But when asked Wednesday if his job was ever advertised and if so where, Domain Pulse received zero response.

So what do we know about Boardman’s “resignation”? As usual in the way auDA works since late 2016, accountability and transparency are sorely lacking, and stakeholders are kept in the dark. Following the “resignation”, it would a travesty if once again this not-for profit was engaged in another golden handshake, several of which have been paid to former employees forced out in recent years. We also have an organisation that has nobody in place that can make key decisions, including on marketing and spending. And the biggest change for .au since auDA was formed almost 2 decades ago, the introduction of second level registrations, is looking dead in the water.