By Kelly Richardson for The San Diego Union Tribune
Unruly board meetings may be the most discouraging part of HOA living. Mature homeowners avoid such meetings, managers fear such meetings, and directors cannot even discuss the agenda without interruptions. When normal manners and courtesies are abandoned, meetings end in frustration. Directors are discouraged that they cannot deliberate (consequently tempted to do so instead in closed session), and observers are discouraged not only from attending meetings, let alone volunteering.
Here are eight tips to improve board meetings.
Meeting room setup. Avoid setting up the board table so that all directors sit facing the audience and not each other. That sends two bad messages at once — that the board is talking to the audience but not each other. Adjust tables so directors can better face each other, in a “C” shape with the open end facing the audience.
Disorderly open forum. Directors should not talk during open forum. If a director interrupts someone’s open forum remarks, it can seem fair to that person that they can interrupt board deliberations. Directors and managers should listen attentively to open forum remarks and save any responses to questions or comments until open forum ends. If the board desires further member input on an issue during the meeting, the board can re-open open forum on that issue.
Stay on target. Non-urgent matters can only be discussed after posting them on the agenda four days before the meeting. Directors need to be disciplined and focus on the agenda instead of topics that come to mind. When the discussion strays off topic, the chair or any director should politely object and request a return to the motion at hand. Avoid discussing a new motion until the pending motion is resolved.
Avoid lengthy meetings. Overly long meetings lead to tired and cranky attendees. Energy and focus both decrease as the length increases, raising the chances of unfocused discussions and poor decisions. Avoid overly ambitious agendas and insist that directors read all meeting materials in advance. Limit repetitive and excessive argumentation by moving to close debate and vote when everyone’s position has become clear.
Don’t ignore disruption. Some owners or directors cannot control themselves and continually talk over others, interrupt, or otherwise interject themselves in a disruptive way into meetings. Support your chair’s reasonable judgment in reining in misbehavior. There are many possible measures including warning the violator, asking for a vote to censure, or even ejecting the disruptive participant.
Allow disagreement. Build an environment in which disagreement is not viewed as disloyalty. There is nothing wrong with a “nay” vote if one believes that vote is in the association’s best interests. There is also nothing wrong with a 3 to 2 vote, which is just as binding as a unanimous 5 to 0 vote. Pressure to achieve unanimity increases the likelihood of tension as dissenters feel that pressure and the majority feels frustrated because they cannot get consensus. So, debates run too long, or tempers get short … or both.
Meeting rules and Code of Conduct. All but the smallest associations should have meeting and board conduct rules, describing meeting procedures but also establishing standards of conduct which are expected from directors and audience.
CAI. The Community Associations Institute has helpful education and publications regarding positive association governance. Find your local chapter at http://www.CAIonline.org.
Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober LLP, a California law firm known for community association expertise. Submit column questions to Kelly@roattorneys.com. Past columns at http://www.HOAHomefront.com.
C.A.I. is nothing more than a political action committee that works AGAINST the Homeowners and encourages and empowers the Board of Directors to ignore the Homeowners for the corporation that is made up of Homeowners. C.A.I. is a dangerous organization that only serves to empower the Board at the expense of the Homeowners. More and more we are seeing in our 1,522 homeowner association that the Macro is reflected in the Micro…the lack of openness…honesty…and transparency…that is so prevalent at the National, State, County level…works its way down to the governance of our HOA. Our Board of Directors has a history of doing our community’s business in the dark, and far, far too often end up playing “Father Knows Best.” Too often, the old man is simply wrong, and act with impunity.