Jordan Shifrin/Condo talk: Running the perfect homeowners association meeting
By Jordan Shifrin
Are you spending your entire life going to meetings? Are you tired, run down, and fatigued? Ask any veteran member of an association board of directors whether they can keep meetings to about an hour, and most will tell you it would be easier to find a hedge fund manager on welfare.
The typical association board of directors' meeting in its current form developed and perpetuated itself during the late 1970s and has evolved into the beast that devours board members (Meetzilla?). Ask any former director why he no longer serves on the board and it usually can be attributed to something stemming from a bad or series of bad meetings.
Originally intended to mirror the business meeting of a corporation, many association meetings now resemble the atmosphere of the corporate lunchroom instead. Part of the problem can be a lack of education on the part of the directors, dominant owners overwhelming passive directors, or the board's efforts to create a town meeting open atmosphere that now turns into a pre-strike union hall.
For associations suffering from depleted volunteerism and board member self-immolation, it is suggested that the board look at its meeting schedule and how meetings are conducted in order to make them more "Board-member friendly," as well as "unit-owner friendly." Here are some suggestions on how to have productive and efficient directors and owners meetings:
When anticipating a difficult meeting (special assessment, rule changes, pets, parking, etc.) prepare, prepare, prepare. Before the meeting begins, you should be aware of all of the issues. Who are the spokespersons, and do they have a hidden agenda.
The best way to diffuse a potentially hostile environment is to talk to the potential adversaries. Address their concerns. Assure them their point of view will be respected, even if board members agree, and they will be given the first opportunity to speak. In return, you ask that they limit questions and comments to a few minutes, allow the board to respond, and maintain a civil tone.
Have an agenda, and stick to it. Make sure a copy is available to all attendees. Tell them it will be followed and all board members will confine their remarks to it as well. Also, front load the agenda with the "hot" issues as you can get right to it.
Start on time. Nothing makes a hostile crowd even more hostile than making them wait.
Have copies of financial statements and the previous meeting's minutes available for everyone. It is one more thing that keeps the meeting moving.
Set time limits for both the speakers and the meeting itself. People are more inclined to get to the point if they are worried the microphone will be cut off. Also, ask everyone to listen so the same question is not asked more than once.
Try to balance the discussions. Intersperse speakers with opposing points of view so the discussion does not become monotonous.
Select a strong hand to run the meeting. The biggest impairment to having a good meeting is having the wrong person running it. A good president may not necessarily be good at vast gatherings of angry people. Appoint a chairman, sergeant-at-arms or someone to field questions and direct the discussion.
Do not meet just for the sake of meeting. It is not against the law to cancel a meeting. The law requires a board to meet a minimum of four times per year. Many boards meet monthly, but with a strong budget and a good team in place, unless there is a looming capital project or pending lawsuit, there is no reason why a board cannot meet quarterly.
Have a bailout plan. If all else fails, have two people designated in advance to make a motion to adjourn and second, so the out of control meeting can finally end and the board can try it again in the future.
Remember, if an out of control outburst occurs and order cannot be resumed, then the board is either too detached from its membership or did not prepare properly.
All meetings can be perfect. However, some meetings can be more perfect than others.
• Jordan Shifrin is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel. Past columns can be read at www.ksnlaw.com.