Published on: February 14, 2001
In past columns I have written about the need for boards to communicate with the owners on a regular basis. Unfortunately, owners tend to become suspicious of “what is going on” when their contact with or from the board is limited to annual meeting or some isolated memo or letter which, more often than not, is announcing some unpleasant fact, such as a special assessment. To lessen this problem I have previously suggested mailing copies of each month’s board minutes or publishing a monthly or quarterly newsletter.
Critics, however, point out that proper minutes are only reflections of what was decided and newsletters often put the board’s desired “spin” on the subject. Thus, another method to dispel this suspicion is in order. The simplest and most obvious is for the board to have open meetings.
For reasons which continue to elude me, many boards meet in private. Often this is done to avoid disruption. That, however, can be controlled in other ways which I will discuss in what follows. Except to discuss sensitive matters such as pending litigation, personnel issues or deliberations concerning the imposition of fines, there are few things which warrant a closed discussion. Rather, as state open meeting laws provide (no these laws are not applicable to associations, but they provide excellent guidance) most board meetings should be open.
But you respond, we hold our meetings in one of the board member’s homes. Certainly we shouldn’t have to have hordes of owners present. If a clubhouse or meeting room is not available, then I suggest the need to have meetings in a board members home should not be a basis to close them. In reality, except in the rare instance that a controversial matter is to be discussed, owner attendance will be sparse, if at all. So long as owners can attend, it is more than likely that they won’t. What is important is that they can come if they want.
The issue then becomes, what role should owners get to pay in the meeting if they do attend. Basically, they are there just to observe, not participate. Just as citizens attend council meetings and other public meetings and observe, they do not get to participate unless they are there for a particular purpose which is set on the agenda. The variance to this is that there should be a period, either at the beginning of the meeting, or at the end, when there is an open owners’ forum. During that period owners who attend should be able to address the board on whatever matter they wish, so long as it relates to the association.
Various arguments exist concerning whether this owner forum should be at the beginning or end of the meeting. If the forum is at the beginning, the board can then have the balance of the time for its subjects. On the other hand, if at the end, the board agenda is more likely to be completed. Either has its advantages and disadvantages. What is important is that the owners have an opportunity to be heard.
In having owner forums it is important that board members not engage in arguments or debates with the presenting owner. Rather, courteous listening is in order. Likewise, the ground rules must provide that owners who address the board are required to comport themselves properly. Should on owner fail to observe this rule, they should be ruled out of order and asked to leave. Should that fail, the meeting should be adjourned. This possibility may well suggest that the forum is at the end of the meeting.
Following this procedure may at times create additional burdens on boards. As all board members know, however, their job is far from easy. This additional burden will, I suggest, go a long way to dispelling the suspicion held by my owners.