What Makes Homeowner Association Meetings Work
By Brian P. McLean, Leahy.ps
Making association meetings work requires strict obedience to two shining principles:
1. Get along with your neighbors.
2. Run meetings efficiently.
Getting along with your neighbors is a self-explanatory precept to those who understand one should pick one’s battles carefully. It doesn’t mean anything to the rest of us. It is the foundation of successful community living. In fact, it describes successful community living. If a homeowner doesn’t understand, doesn’t care, or disagrees with the first principle, then rural Yellow Knife in the Northwest Territories has some lovely view properties this time of year.
Running meetings efficiently is not the only part, but it is a big part of getting along with your neighbors.
Why? Because if you run meetings efficiently, good directors will stay, there will be more homeowners at your annual meeting, and your vendors will cost less. Let’s face it, most of us—homeowners, managers, attorneys—have better things to do then to listen to Marvin wax poetic again, for twenty-five minutes, about energy saving light bulbs.
Conversely, one of the best ways to create chaos, upheaval, decline, disorder, dissolution, and vigilantism is to disrupt the Northwest power grid. But this is beyond the technological ability and opportunity of the average board member.
The second best way is to regularly run two-hour board meetings on weeknights, a six-hour annual meeting, and allow Vice-President Marvin to wax poetic on energy saving light bulbs, or allow ex-board member Marvin to wax poetic on energy saving light bulbs, or allow Marvin’s curmudgeon roommate Pete to complain for twenty-five minutes that no one has replaced his power hungry light bulb in two weeks and that he believes the $.03 cents that the Association has wasted by not rushing to replace his light bulb could have been used, under generally accepted accounting principles—because his niece Marsha is a certified public accountant and she was horrified too that it wasn’t—and assuming some reasonable rate of return in municipal bonds, but not Lynnwood’s, that the memorial to Popo, who passed away six years ago but was the catalyst for the Board adopting the non-enforcement policy on pet leashes in the common area according to Marvin, his roommate, who used to be on the Board—isn’t that right, Marvin? At which point Marvin seconds Pete’s position and pretty soon everyone’s scratching their heads trying to determine who’s in charge and whether Pete, who is not a homeowner, and is rumored to have killed someone during the Franco-Prussian War, is allowed to speak.
The meeting adjourns, of course, without a quorum and uncertainty about whether the budget was ratified.
What are some of the things you can do to run your meetings more efficiently? Here are a few starters:
1. Establish your agenda at least a week in advance and disseminate it to other Board members and, if appropriate, homeowners. You may need more time if your CC&Rs require advance notice on things likes budget ratification, or elections. Or recalls.
2. Stick to the agenda. Establish roles, if necessary (facilitator, timekeeper).
3. Try not to solve problems before you understand them. You can’t.
4. Try not to resolve issues when there is inadequate information to do so.
5. If it’s an owners’ meeting, permit homeowners to speak for a limited amount of time. If there are a lot of homeowners who want to speak, use a sign-up sheet on a first-come first served basis and discourage speakers from repeating what others have said. If it’s a BOARD meeting, not an OWNERS’ meeting, remember that sometimes to get business done it’s better for non-board members to be seen and not heard.
Owners meetings are not a committee of the whole where every owner presides in a form of absolute democratic matrix management involving blindfolds and candles. Typically, there is a chain of command. There is a presiding officer and often a desperate need for someone to be in control of the cacophony of noise that can ensue. If there is cacophony, and a polite request or two cannot seem to dispel the cacophony, most homeowners will respect the courageous board president who adjourns the meeting and sets it over to another time where business can be conducted.
Boards often think of Robert’s Rules of Order (or some variation of Parliamentary Procedure) as the grand panacea for chaos and frustration. Indeed, these British imports can be a shaft of gold where all around is darkness.
Some CC&Rs permit boards to invoke parliamentary procedure as their final stand of civility when a board meeting spins into disorder. Imagine the risks of doing this when you know nothing about parliamentary procedure. We will revisit this in future issues.
I leave you with this image. You are alone at a rural and forgotten outpost. You have befriended and occasionally dance with a prairie dog. Your tie is loosened. Perhaps you are wearing slacks instead of a dress. The shortwave is playing a little Dave Brubeck in the background. Cool. Maybe you’ll do the budget this evening. Maybe you won’t. Suddenly, over the horizon, you spot a mob of homeowners marching upon you. They are leaving a rooster tail of dust. They are a cacophony. You could leave but you have your duty. You pull out your unthumbed book on parliamentary procedure and begin to practice “point of order.” What happens?