Owner Participation at an Association Board Meeting – The Fine Art of Herding Cats
Here is part three of the on-going conversation about keeping order and control in association board meetings, and getting the business done. This time, the focus is on participation of members in an association board meeting.
In recent years, I am sorry to say I have attended too many association board meetings where an off duty police officer was required to prevent disruption and chaos. Here are my thoughts on ways to conduct board business, efficiently and effectively, while still encouraging participation by the association members.
OWNER PARTICIPATION RULES
- Start with a detailed agenda, which lists every topic that will be addressed in the association board meeting. Only include action items which will require a board vote. Post the notice on the association’s bulletin board and website, to alert the owners to the topics to be covered at the meeting. The board should adopt a rule limiting all participation to the topics contained on the agenda, so it is important to be very specific on the description of each topic. Then, the meeting chair will have to be sure he/she doesn’t allow a member’s comments to stray from that agenda item when it is up for discussion.
- Florida Law provides that every association member has the right to speak on every agenda item. In Florida, the board has the power to make rules regarding frequency, duration, and timing of input from members. (Check your state statutes for authority or limitations on rule-making.)
- Assuming rule-making authority does exist, adopt rules regarding attendee participation in the board meeting. For example, the board can provide a speaker time-limit of a maximum of 3 minutes per agenda item. Provide that each person can speak only one time for each agenda item. Also, be clear that the right to speak is personal to the member and cannot be assigned to anyone else.
- Make a rule requiring a member to sign-up for each agenda item on which he/she wishes to speak, before the meeting begins. Of course, you have to remind everyone to do that before you call the meeting to order, to avoid the perception that the board is trying to trick the attendees and prevent them from speaking. If you have that rule, the sign-up sheet will close when you call the meeting to order. Then as each agenda item comes up, you will call on those members who signed up, and give them their 3 minutes. When everyone who signed up for that agenda item has spoken, the floor is closed.
- When should the board permit input from the members in attendance? The premise is that input should be taken prior to the time the board actually votes on the particular issue. First, the board will put a motion and second on the floor. Then, the Board can discuss the issue, and after than open the floor for those who signed up to speak. Once that list is completed, the floor is closed and the board can have its final discussion, and then vote. The other option is to have the members speak first (again, following the pre-meeting sign-up list), and then close the floor and have the board discussion and vote.
Again, the input should be limited to the specific agenda items. Meanwhile the association board doesn’t want to be in a position of being accused of stifling member ability to communicate with the association when they have questions, comments or concerns. To address this perception, adopt rules regarding other communications, and require them to be in writing, signed by the owner, and sent to the official mailing address of the association for review and further processing. Since you only want to have action items on the agenda, and since only board members can make motions at the board meeting and in accordance with the agenda, it is important to have a mechanism for receiving communications from members that are not related to the agenda items. With the rule regulating written communications, member concerns can be considered outside of the association board meeting, and owners do not feel their issues are being ignored.
CONDUCTING THE ASSOCIATION BOARD MEETING
Use parliamentary procedure to keep control of the meeting. Remind the members of the meeting participation rules before the meeting actually starts. Establish a quorum and call the meeting to order.
Motions must be made and seconded before any discussion. Follow the agenda, and set action items only. Keep track of timing of the members’ input if you have a “three minute” rule.
All of this is a theoretical description of a association board meeting in a perfect world. What can you do when the attendees become unruly, interrupting the process, ignoring the rules, with some portion of the members bent on preventing the board from conducting its business?
- First step is to adopt and publish the participation rules.
- Remind the members of the rules before calling the meeting to order.
- If needed, remind everyone to speak one at a time, and that everyone will have his/her time to speak (in accordance with the participation rules), and ask that everyone give the speaker the courtesy he/she wants when it is his/her turn to speak.
- If you are expecting a contentious meeting, ask the association attorney to attend. Sometimes having the outsider in the meeting encourages better behavior. If not, consider having an off-duty police officer, in uniform, and that will generally keep things in good order.
- Do not respond to loud accusations or challenges, or to anyone who has abandoned civility. Tell a disruptive member he or she is out of order, and then move on and ignore any further input from that member.
- If all else fails, do not adjourn the meeting. Doing so not only rewards the bad behavior, but it gives the disruptive members what they want which is to prevent the board from conducting its business. Instead, gather the board members around the table, and quietly continue the meeting by talking solely to each other, without further input from the floor. My experience is that the reasonable folks in the room will likely tell the rowdy members to sit down and be quiet, because the reasonable folks would like to hear what is going on. And, if the reasonable folks don’t step up, at least the board can finish its meeting and adjourn.
- One other thought, if you have been having problems with disruption of the meetings, try moving all action items requiring immediate action to the top of the agenda, so you can adjourn sooner rather than later if behavior deteriorates during the meeting.
Your world may continue to challenging and disappointing. Walk in the sunshine and do what you can to find positive solutions. Stay courageous everyone.
Ellen Hirsch de Haan has over 30 years of experience practicing homeowners and community association law. She regularly teaches classes on the subject to further educate homeowners and property managers alike. Ask to join our email list to learn more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.