[hackerspaces] Question regarding member dispute

Sam Ley sam.ley at gmail.com
Tue Jan 5 06:30:10 CET 2016

Don't worry about laws - you are a private organization, you can kick
people out whenever you want for nearly any reason. I'm not saying you
definitely have to do it at this point, but don't forget that your board,
or whoever the legal owners/managers of your organization are have nearly
ultimate power over who is present. Even non-profits don't have to make
their board minutes public in most states, and even if you did, the minutes
are "Voted 4-0 to revoke membership of <screwball>." Nothing wrong with
that at all. It also largely doesn't matter what your current bylaws say -
because you can just vote to amend them. I recommend something like,
"Members may be removed with [x] days notice, at the sole discretion of the

Our process is roughly:

1. Encourage disagreeing members to work it out on their own, perhaps with
a helpful suggestion of how to do so.
2. Direct mediation if needed - we have members who are trained mediators
who volunteer to help out.

If an incident escalates, or isn't resolved with a nice chat, then:

1. One written warning.
2. Dismissal on the second.

That said - we reserve the right to act as we feel is necessary for the
health of the group - some situations may warrant a second warning, others
may not make it to the first. I strongly recommend your bylaws giving you
two paths - the normal, calm, equitable path for when the process is
working, and a second, immediate path for when it isn't. Some people are
masters at walking the line, playing board members against each other, and
otherwise being a pest without breaking the letter of the rules.

As far as discussing privately with the board vs. publicly with the

1. We alert the membership at large if their property or safety may be risk
(only happened once when a new member background check came up with an
armed robbery conviction - the membership wanted to give the person a
chance, and hey, they've been an awesome member)
2. Or privately discuss with just the board (if property or safety is not
at risk) - this accounts for most of our "what should we do about <so n
so>" discussions

If the board votes to dismiss a member, we can then do so. If they broke a
"big rule", then the dismissal would be immediate, otherwise our lease
terms give us a "with 30 days notice for any reason" (our members get space
of their own as well as common space, hence the lease agreement). Our board
is also given individual power to kick someone out without a board vote at
all if a member physically harms or threatens someone in the space
(deputized to act on behalf of the entire board on matters of physical

Phoenix Asylum, Boulder, CO

On Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 9:28 PM, Shirley Hicks <shirley at velochicdesign.com>

> On Jan 4, 2016, at 10:01 PM, Silence Dogood <matt at nycresistor.com> wrote:
> Frankly, if you are thinking you might need to call the police to deal
> with a member... that member needs to be gone.  You have no trust in them,
> and that is not a healthy member of a community.
> We’re not at that point. Both members are grown up enough that I don’t
> think it get that far. The issue for the board and the makerspace is
> working through our first conflict in a way that is reasonably productive
> (that we deal with it, learn from it and then get member buy-in to set
> rules in place to prevent it from happening again).
> — Shirley
> Another question about process:
> What are your internal steps? Are they to verbally counsel, then go to a
> written warning, or go to a written caution right away? I saw Dalla’s
> sample language (thanks Robert). What do you keep confidential and what may
> be made public as part of board minutes? Am also looking up US legal
> practice and governing laws re information privacy.
> — Shirley
> -Matt
> On Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 8:01 PM, Sam Ley <sam.ley at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 5:21 PM, Mark Rosenblitt-Janssen <
>> dreamingforward at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> It's simple, either they behave as the community asks, or they forfeit
>>> their membership.  You have to bite the bullet and be willing to do
>>> it.
>> This is dead on.
>> We had a similar set of disputes with one member who wasn't breaking any
>> of the big on-paper rules, but was very prone to conflict with other
>> members, bad about working things out, always contacting the board with
>> complaints instead of speaking with people directly, playing "mommy
>> said/daddy said" with multiple board members when they didn't get answers
>> the liked, prone to angry outbursts instead of discussion, etc. They
>> managed to drive out one member, then another, over the course of a 6 month
>> period.
>> We direct mediated a TON of conflicts over this time (including with
>> other members who are trained mediators), but new issues kept popping up.
>> When the third member (a very long-time and respected member) contacted us
>> and said they were leaving due to this person, we knew we finally had to
>> take action.
>> It was tough, but we do have a term in our lease/membership agreement
>> where we can kick someone out immediately for breaking any of the rules, or
>> with 30-days notice for no reason at all (we have a bit of a delay since
>> the members keep large pieces of property and tools at our shop - if it was
>> a more traditional hackerspace model we would have both time frames be
>> "immediately"). We met with the member, gave them notice, and that was
>> that. It was hard to do, and the member said every toxic thing we thought
>> they would about us (I'll call my lawyer, its because of so-and-so isn't
>> it?, its because of my gender, its because you don't respect REAL
>> creatives, etc.).
>> But they left, and things have been MUCH better. We cleared the way for
>> some great new members, old members are happier, and I realized that
>> letting things go that long was the worst decision. We were uncomfortable
>> kicking someone out (it was our first one), but after doing it I realize we
>> should have done it much sooner. You aren't calling someone a bad person by
>> kicking them out, you aren't taking their livelihood or anything major. You
>> are just telling them not to show up anymore. Your members trust you to
>> make the space a good one, and sometimes you have to be the bad guy for a
>> day.
>> The other local space here gave us some good insight when we discussed
>> the situation with them - they have had to make the same decision a few
>> times, and gave the same advice I'm giving now - if you've tried a few
>> times to get someone to play nice, and they won't - ask them to leave. Just
>> that simple, and once it is done you'll wish you did it sooner.
>> Sam Ley
>> Phoenix Asylum, Boulder, CO
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