The scene was tense, with shouting, threats, and concerns about objects being thrown. Despite repeated pleas for quiet, anger and tension hung over the room. Menacing faces glared at the speaker in front of the head table. Is this a description of the latest episode of the Jerry Springer Show? No, just a dysfunctional association board meeting.
If you serve on the board of a condominium, townhome, or homeowner’s association you may have experienced such a chaotic event. This behavioral phenomenon occurs gradually over time, as homeowners and even some board members are not challenged and corrected on their behavior. Thus shouting, threats, and yes, even chair-throwing are considered acceptable actions.
It does not need to be this way. If your association has fallen into this rut, there are practical and essential steps to regain control.
Stop the disrupters
Provide the guidelines at the start of EVERY meeting. The board president of our best-run association opens each meeting with an announcement to this effect: “Before we start, I want to explain how we conduct the meeting. First, the Board will conduct our routine business. You are welcome to observe and take notes, but please hold your questions. When the business portion of the meeting is done, you will have an opportunity for comments and questions.”
The business meeting should follow a set format, such as the following:
-Call to Order
-Approval of Minutes
After the conclusion of New Business, if there is no other business to conduct, the Q&A portion of the meeting begins. Again, best practice is to remind the homeowners of the guidelines, with instructions such as: “Now we will open up the meeting to questions from homeowners. So that everyone has an opportunity, please limit your comments and questions to 5 minutes. In addition, please state your name and unit address before you start your comments.” This provides more behavioral boundaries and stating their name and address also reinforces accountability for their comments.
Many associations also provide a time limit for the Q&A period, usually no more than 20-30 minutes, unless a controversial issue (i.e., special assessment) is being discussed.
To further emphasize the “board members only” comment rule during the business portion of the meeting, it is helpful to place the tables in front of the meeting room in a u-shape, so that the Board is facing each other and not directing their comments to the audience. The open end of u should face the audience, but they will only be addressed directly during the Q&A session.
For associations that have grown out of control, it will take several reminders to enforce this behavior. It is important to be vigilant about enforcement and not allow out-of-turn comments. As stated before, the behavioral guidelines should be stated before EVERY meeting, since new homeowners will attend that are not aware of proper meeting behavior. Repeating the guidelines also enforces that the board is serious about enforcement and will not allow exceptions.
Finally, for homeowners who refuse to comply, even after a reminder, there is a simple process: (1) tell them that further disruptions will cause the meeting to be adjourned, and if they persist, (2) adjourn the meeting. If a disruptive homeowner still refuses to leave, call the police. Security may be required at future meetings until the guidelines are followed. Fortunately, this extreme step is seldom necessary.
If meeting behavior is not a problem for your association, be thankful. But if your meetings have grown out of control, this process will get them back on track. You never know, Jerry Springer may even be calling you for advice.
Ken Bertolucci is President of NS Management, a community association management company located in the north suburbs of Chicago. He often writes for industry-specific newspapers.