Decorum has its virtues, but so does honesty; and while the former may be scarce in ICANN's HQ, the latter is as rare as -- nay, is rarer than -- hen's teeth. So, in weighing how to write this up for ICANN Watch, I've erred in the direction of honesty. In this episode, I tackle Stuart Lynn.
Stuart Lynn has been, at best, a deeply mediocre CEO. Despite some early tawdry maneuvers (for example, Lynn's "reform" not just of ICP process but of its meaning and the exploitation of September 11th to derail public discussion of the At Large Study Committee with a "security"-oriented flea circus), ICANN seemed to be settling into a groove of sorts; or at least its critics seemed to be growing weary, if not downright defeated.
As Bret Fausett noted with his usual grace on the ICANN Blog, things seemed to be looking up (for ICANN) at the beginning of 2002. The familiar litany of criticisms remained very much in force, to be sure; but it also seemed as though the complex constellation of forces bearing down on ICANN might stabilize enough for it conclude a series of loose but workable agreements with the ccTLDs, the RIRs, and the rootserver operators. And the At Large Study Committee had even offered a face-saving compromise on the subject of popular representation at the board level. With these things if not in hand then near to it, ICANN could have argued, honestly or not, that it had substantially fulfilled some of the basic terms of its Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
But rather than working pragmatically to consolidate some or even all of these gains, Lynn indulged himself in a one-man orgy of frustrated ambition called "ICANN -- The Case for Reform." The document's insistently first-person declarative voice flew in the face of the most basic traditions of internet administration, and its substance made it painfully clear that ICANN was intent -- indeed, bent -- on reading possible compromises as signs that its 'opponents' were caving in.
That Lynn could, in one fell swoop, set ICANN back so badly was impressive in itself; but that he could do so while arguing that ICANN's worst traits -- bloat, cronyism, and opacity -- should be the guideposts for its future development was sheer folly.
Now, as Lynn announces his retirement, the going will only get tougher for ICANN. Its allies are growing skeptical, its skeptics have grown critical, and its critics are emboldened. Its nano-management of the new gTLD process dragged on for so long that the viability of the new TLD managers is looking doubtful. The At Large Directors' terms will be coming to and end just as the MoU comes up for renewal, even as one of those directors is suing it for playing three-card-monte with "procedure" to deny him access to basic financial information. And what does Lynn, at the helm of ICANN do? He proposes a budget that can only be described as Lynnian: riven with expansionist ambitions, on the one hand, and riddled with poor-mouthing whining, on the other.
Note to the Search Committee: In assessing possible replacements for Lynn (if you can even find any), look for someone who: (1) isn't petulant -- your CEO using an early public appearance to slag off an academic critic hardly befits a "global" organization; (2) is circumspect enough to reassure skittish colleagues -- if not, you can kiss off contracts with ccTLDs, RIRs, and rootsever ops; (3) is cosmopolitan -- everyone's tired of arrogant Americans, Lynn included; (4) is a ruthless cost-cutter -- slash the staff, fire JDRP, and start flying economy and ICANN might last; (5) is fearless -- ICANN will be much better off airing its own dirty laundry than having it aired by force (which is inevitable); and (6) has enough of a populist streak to force you to talk to the riffraff -- because you can run but you can't hide.