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Hey, staff. It is with a heavy heart that I come to the long-forgotten Support/Suggestions board today, but a matter has been brought to my attention that I feel requires immediate and public acknowledgment and redress.

A member came to me today to ask advice on a situation regarding inactivity. The specifics of the case aren't particularly consequential, but what stirred me to action was when, near the end of our conversation, the member mentioned that their appeal had actually been granted by SOTF Help, they had posted, and then hours later they were informed that their appeal had been granted erroneously and was thus being revoked.

I think it goes without saying that such a turn of events is completely unacceptable from any sort of fairness-based or member-first perspective.

While I am given to understand that the initial appeal was granted by a single staffer acting without authorization or approval of the team, that does not change the fact that an appeal was granted through SOTF Help and that the member posted in accordance with said appeal, constituting a return to activity, prior to the PM rescinding the appeal.

If a mistake was made on the part of a staffer acting unilaterally, that is very much a problem worthy of internal discussion and possibly of some form of appropriate action or reform, but that is an internal situation that should be handled by staff. What is totally unacceptable is for a member operating in accordance with rules and official staff communications to be punished for an internal staff error. The unauthorized granting of the initial appeal was the fault of the staffer who granted it, not the handler who received it. The failure to follow protocol was on the part of the staff team. If a handler is making a request or communication through an unauthorized channel, staff needs to handle that appropriately, shutting it down or redirecting as need be. I've been in that spot, again and again. I know it can be tough to say "My personal opinion is X, but that has no binding until discussed by the whole staff," but that is the only correct action. Once a staffer knowingly uses their authority to grant an appeal, they are wielding the weight of the team, and while this can be repaired (and has been at many points in the past), that repair work must be done with a keen eye towards treating affected members with all possible fairness and leniency.

I was on staff for a long, long time. I remember vividly the difficult and tense situations we've dealt with, and I know that an erroneous ruling can be incredibly frustrating to deal with. At the same time, staff has always prided itself upon fairness and has always accepted the repercussions of its mistakes. No single staffer is perfect, and the collective certainly is not either. Mistakes happen. But part of making mistakes is dealing with them fairly and professionally, and rescinding an appeal—one that had been granted by SOTF Help and acted upon in a timely fashion—due to errors made by staffers and utterly outside the control of the affected handler, is neither professional nor fair.

A key part of staff work has always been weighing costs and rewards. In this case, I see very little reward that could possible be worth the cost to staff's reputation of undoing a ruling to the expense of a handler. I have been, by and large, very proud of the operation of staff since my departure. I consider you all friends and I trust you to do what you think is best. But this is not best. This is a massive staff error, and one that demands immediate corrective action and acknowledgment of the mistake.

If staff going off half-cocked is a problem (and I know it historically has been) then that should be dealt with internally. If that means establishing procedures to prevent similar occurrences (or enforcing existing procedures more carefully), barring certain staffers from handling certain decisions or using certain features (say, SOTF Help) without oversight, or (in the worst case scenario) placing staffers on probation or removing them from the team, then so be it. But a staff mistake should not result in punishment for a handler. A granted appeal must be a granted appeal, unless for some reason something comes to light to suggest that the handler knowingly supplied inaccurate information. Anything else undermines the system we've spent so long honing, and that cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

In the interests of full disclosure, and with permission of the handler involved, the PMs that provoked my ire with dates and times included may be found here. I understand that there have been further communications, but that really falls outside my sphere of concern; I'm only getting involved in this due to what I see as a tremendous mistake on the part of the staff team, one which causes me serious concern for the site's well-being.
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Staff Responsibility/Accountability · Support/Suggestions