By Susan M. Hawks McClintic, Esq., CCAL
Meetings are the primary mechanism for conducting business in common interest developments, so effective meetings are a key element in the health
Ineffective meetings in common interest developments, especially when addressing sensitive topics, can easily devolve into shouting matches, threats, and even news coverage. Fortunately, these meetings are rare. More common is apathy or frustration with how business is conducted, which results in very few homeowners attending association meetings, even when important topics are discussed. Whether the concern is a potentially volatile meeting or disinterest, there are ways to conduct meetings that are productive and beneficial for the community.
Community associations hold an annual membership meeting and board meetings at regular intervals throughout the year to conduct their business. Occasionally, special meetings of the members may be held to conduct a membership vote on matters other than the annual election of directors. California law and community association governing documents impose different requirements for board meetings and membership meetings, so it is important to be clear in the meeting notice and agenda about which type of meeting is being held.
For both board meetings and membership meetings, there are procedures and processes dictated by law and the community association’s governing documents related to notices and how to conduct business; these will be discussed below for each type of meeting. The primary sources of information for conducting meetings are in the association’s bylaws, the Common Interest Development Act beginning at Civil Code § 4900 for board meetings and § 5000 for member meetings, California Corporations Code beginning at § 7211 for board meetings and § 7510 for member meetings for incorporated associations, and California Corporations Code at § 18330 for unincorporated associations.
Beyond these requirements for meetings, there are some practices that can help make meetings more effective. Effective meetings can serve multiple purposes beyond just conducting business. They can create confidence in the board and a greater sense of community among the members. Ineffective meetings can lead to conflicts between the board members and the members of the community association.
Board meetings are held for the purpose of conducting board business. The board president presides as the chairperson and is responsible for leading the board members through the agenda items and keeping the discussions focused on those agenda items. Board meetings are required to be open to attendance by the association members unless certain sensitive topics are to be discussed and statute allows for a closed-door conversation.
The first step in keeping board meetings productive and effective is to establish rules of order and decorum. Some of the rules will be different depending on whether one is a board member or an association member attending the meeting. Board meetings are for the board to conduct board business. Association members who are not on the board should be limited to observing the meetings, except during the designated association member comment periods.
While some of the rules should probably “go without saying,” they need to be said and should also be written down and read as a reminder to the attendees at the beginning of each meeting. The board may want to have copies of the rules readily available for board members and audience members. For an electronic meeting, the rules could be posted on a slide. These rules of decorum can include a reminder that members who are not on the board may only speak during the homeowner comment period unless specifically addressed by the board, that only one person may speak at a time, that all meeting attendees must refrain from interrupting speakers, and that speakers must stay on the topic of the agenda item being discussed. The chair of the meeting or another designated board member should enforce these rules so that all attendees maintain trust in the board and know that differing opinions may be presented and will be considered in a respectful, businesslike manner. Healthy associations are those that are open to new ideas and respectfully consider dissenting opinions.
The second step is to set the meeting agenda in advance. Common interest development board meetings must have an agenda per California Civil Code § 4920. The agenda must be posted with the meeting notice at least four days in advance of the board meeting, except in an emergency. For a meeting held solely in executive session, only two days’ notice is required. These timelines for notice of the meeting may be longer if required by the association’s governing documents.
The agenda can include time limits for each agenda item to keep the meeting moving, but flexibility should be allowed as long as the discussion remains productive and on topic. The board can adopt protocols for determining how a decision is made to extend a discussion beyond a designated time period. Options can include approval by a majority of a quorum of the board or approval by any two board members.
The third step is for the chair of the meeting to keep the meeting on topic and maintain the rules of order or decorum. The president usually acts as the chair of the meetings. As a side note, most bylaws define the roles of the board officers and list their duties. The bylaws also usually provide for the delegation of some of these duties to other board members or association management, as well as making provisions for assigning these duties to another officer in the absence of the assigned officer. It is very common for many of the administerial tasks (such as taking meeting minutes, posting meeting notices and agendas, creating financial documents, and other similar tasks) to be delegated to management representatives, with oversight by the officers and directors.
The chair of the meeting can keep the meeting moving forward by following the agenda and requiring that discussions remain focused on the agenda item being considered. A specific amount of time can be allotted to each agenda item and the time extended only by agreement of a majority of the directors’ present, to avoid “going in circles” on a topic without reaching a conclusion. If conversations tend to go on for longer than needed to adequately address agenda items, a motion can be made and approved by a majority of the board to discontinue discussion and call for a vote.
The chair of the meeting should also maintain decorum by ensuring that only one person at a time is speaking, that all speakers stay on the topic under discussion, and that any time limit for a topic is enforced unless extended by the board.
Board meetings are for conducting board business, and often owners/members not on the board will be limited to observing and making comments during one or more designated comment periods. At least one owner comment period is required by law at open session board meetings. The timing of this comment period can be designated by the board. The law does not address any time limits or set out any specific time during the meeting for owner comments.
Most commonly the comment period is at the beginning of the meeting, but some associations choose to allow comments for each agenda item as it arises on the agenda, and other associations only allow comments at the end of the meeting. The disadvantage of only allowing members to comment at the end of the meeting is that it does not allow the members to comment in advance of the board’s consideration of agenda items during the meeting. This seems to defeat one of the primary purposes of the owner comment period – namely, owner input on an agenda item prior to the board considering the item. So, a comment period should be allowed before the board conducts its business.
The board may set reasonable time limits for comments by individual owners as well as an overall time limit for owners’ comments. These time limits should be set by the board in advance of meetings and stated on the posted agenda for each meeting so members are informed of the time limits before the meeting. Typically, individual owner comments are limited to two to three minutes and the overall owner comment period to 15 minutes. These time limitations can vary depending on the size of the community and the number of owners who regularly attend board meetings.
The board may decide to extend these time limits for a particular meeting or topic if they believe that additional time is needed to allow individual owners sufficient opportunity to comment. This most commonly occurs when the board is considering a large project or a significant change in policies or procedures.
The board is not obligated to provide any response to owner comments, but it does promote community goodwill if easily answered questions are addressed and other comments, even negative ones, are acknowledged.
Membership meetings are not board meetings and are treated differently in the law than board meetings. Membership meetings are either annual meetings to hold the board election and conduct any other items of business set by the board in the notice and agenda for the meeting, or special meetings to address a specific topic.
Special meetings of the members can be called by the board or by a petition signed by association members. For incorporated associations, Corporations Code § 7510(e) provides that special meetings “for any lawful purpose” may be called by the board, by the board president or chairperson, by other persons specified in the bylaws (which is rare), or by 5 percent or more of the members. Some association bylaws set a higher percentage of the members required to call a special meeting. Legal counsel for the association should be consulted upon receipt of any member petition to determine if the meeting is properly called and whether the association’s governing documents may set a higher percentage of the members to call a special meeting than the 5 percent set by § 7510(e) noted above. The minimum requirements for members to call a special meeting for unincorporated associations should be set forth in the governing documents.
Membership meetings are held for the members to conduct business, primarily in the form of voting. The primary business conducted at most membership meetings is the election of directors at an annual membership meeting. Infrequently, special membership meetings are held for other types of votes, such as approval of capital improvement projects and document amendments.
Membership meetings are typically conducted by the board. The opportunity for members to speak at membership meetings is different than the opportunity to speak at board meetings as discussed above. Civil Code § 5000 requires that the board permit any member to speak at any membership meeting and allows the board to set a “reasonable time limit for all members to speak.” Section 5000 specifically references the overall time for members to speak and does not mention any per-person limitation, although a per-person time limit may be set in the meeting procedures. The agenda should include a designated time for homeowners’ comments.
Larger associations often ask members who wish to speak at a membership meeting to complete a form requesting to speak and identifying the agenda item or topic of the member’s comments, so the president or other chair of the meeting can call on those members who wish to speak in an orderly manner by topic. Smaller associations generally allow members to take turns speaking merely by raising their hand and being called on in turn by the chair of the meeting.
Civil Code § 5000 also requires that all membership meetings be conducted using some form of parliamentary procedure to maintain order and allow opinions to be voiced respectfully. This procedure should not be overly complicated and difficult to follow. The board does not need to adopt a one-hundred-page tome on parliamentary procedure. There are simplified forms of parliamentary procedure available that do not require interpretation by a professional parliamentarian. The goal of the procedure is to maintain decorum and ensure fairness to all members wishing to speak. The board should not censor statements (unless the statements are discriminatory, offensive, or inappropriate) or show favoritism or preferential treatment toward any individual members.
As with owner comments at board meetings, the board is not obligated to provide any response to owner comments, but it does promote community goodwill if easily answered questions are addressed and other comments, even negative ones, are acknowledged.
When association meetings are conducted in an orderly, calm manner, they are much more likely to be productive and create positive relationships in the community than if they are disorganized, unruly, and unproductive. Setting meeting procedures in advance and consistently enforcing the use of those procedures throughout the meeting will help set a positive tone for the interactions among the board members and association members. This positive tone can greatly benefit the community as a whole and lead to more productive, effective governance of the community.
* This article was originally published in the ECHO Journal March – 2023 edition and was adapted from the original article, Planning & Preparing for Effective Meetings as authored by Susan M. Hawks McClintic, Esq., CCAL.