Hixie's Natural Log

2003-01-29 23:40 UTC How Ann Navarro killed the HTML Writer's Guild

I recently heard about Kynn Bartlett's description of what happened to the HTML Writer's Guild a while back. Quoted below is the entire post.

Someone asked what the Ann Navarro/HWG story was. Here's a short summary. Nothing in here is an exaggeration, and I can support everything I say. You can even email Ann about it — at this point, I don't care if she wants to get upset about me telling people how she destroyed the HWG two years ago through her greed and incompetence.

It really deserves a long answer than this — part of the reason I have never publicly posted the truth and the whole truth — but basically it amounts to this.

The Governing Board of the HWG hired Ann Navarro to run the organization and she did anything but. She put up her company's sign in big letters over the storefront she rented using exclusively Guild money; she let her husband use one of the offices for his own work when the Guild was paying for the entire office for the Guild's use; she bought an $8,000 phone system despite the fact that there were only 2 other Guild employees on-site besides Ann; she used the HWG's credit cards to pay for her vacations; she signed up for personal credit cards in her name with the Guild, unknowingly, as a backer; she stopped paying the HWG's online education instructors for at least three months, except for those instructors on the Governing Board; she spent most if not all of her time locked in her office writing books while still drawing a full time HWG salary despite not running the organization; she neglected to do basics such as getting newsletter ads or asking people to renew their memberships, costing the HWG tens of thousands of dollars, while meanwhile she was going around the world on the Guild's dollar to working group meetings; she so mis-managed the organization that nearly $100,000 was unaccounted for, even after you account for the $17,000 that she appropriated for personal use because nobody was watching her. Why was it so bad? Because the Governing Board refused to exercise any sort of reasonable controls over the money that had been entrusted to them by the membership, and gave Ann more than enough rope with which to hang herself. In fact, they gave her more than enough rope to hang the entire organization. The president and treasurer at the time saw no need to exercise oversight, and those Governing Board members who were concerned with accountability were frequently told to just leave Ann alone.

By the time it came to the attention of the Board — because Ann had succeeded in forcing one of the key HWG staff in her office to resign — the damage was so widespread that the HWG was in massive debt and the Board was not aware of these problems at all. Why? Because the president and treasurer didn't think it was their job to watch Ann, and no other Board members were allowed to question Ann's authority. How much did the party cost the Guild that Ann threw for the members of the W3C's HTML working group? The Board never knew, and I doubt neither the president nor the treasurer did.

So what finally happened?

Well, Ann got away with it clean. In fact, she sued the HWG for wages owed after she was fired.

No charges were filed. No criminal investigations were launched, although thousands and thousands of Guild dollars were spent trying to clean up the financial mess that Ann had made of the HWG's accounting. No lawsuit was filed against Ann for her gross negligence.

Why? Because the president and treasurer protected her. The president during this whole mess ended up resigning from the Board because his handling of the situation wasn't rubberstamped. The treasurer became the next president and assured the Board that everything was going well, until it was revealed that he'd misled the Board about the state of Ann's lawsuit, and soon after he quit the Board entirely, saying that the HWG was a month away from bankruptcy.

What's my role in this? I was the Board member who was told to sit down and shut up whenever I questioned Ann. I was the one (along with one other Board member) who pressed for filing charges against Ann for her embezzlement of Guild funds, but that motion was shot down by the rest of the Board who wanted to put it all behind them. They ended up putting the existence of the Guild behind them, as their actions, both before, after, and during the entire mess doomed the HWG. I was the Board member who assumed the presidency in early summer 2001 when the HWG had a month to live, extended it out to two months, and basically worked non-stop — for free, not for $65,000 (plus whatever she could steal!) as Ann did — to ensure that the HWG would not die and leave our paid members and our unpaid-for-several-months instructors in the lurch.

Because of me — and me alone, since the rest of the Board did effectively nothing to arrive at any other reasonable solution — the HWG and the International Webmasters Association merged at the end of summer 2001 to form the world's largest organization of Web developers. The HWG's projects and programs continued under new leadership, because the entire HWG Governing Board voted itself out of existence by voting to merge the organizations. The Florida office was closed and all HWG services were consolidated into the IWA offices in Pasadena, California.

It hasn't been a seamless match. But it was merge, or go out of business at the end of August 2001, owing money to our employees, to our members, and to our instructors. Richard Brinegar and the rest of the IWA adminstration may not be running things the way the HWG would have done it — but the HWG administration had their chance and what did they do? They killed the Guild.

Thanks, Ann! Thanks, Governing Board! Thanks Joe Cline (president in 2000) and Frank Boumphrey (treasurer in 2000 and president in 2001)! What a great job you guys did on destroying what had one been a pretty neat organization!


PS: Ann was a pretty bad writer. I know, because I was the tech editor on several of the books she wrote.

The HWG has, since the events described above, merged with the IWA. At the time of the merger, I am told they were some $75,000 in debt.

So why do I quote this here? Well, see, LiveJournal shut down Kynn's account when he posted this on their site, and since LiveJournal syndicate me, I figured it would be most amusing to see this post replicated all over their site again. The question is, will they do anything about it?