Quick, what springs to mind when you hear the word “meetings?” Love them or hate them, if you’re a community association board member, you know that meetings are an essential part of community association governance.
Bob Rogers, executive director for FirstService Residential in New Jersey, detailed that New Jersey community associations hold the following types of meetings:
• Open Session / Executive Session
Called by board president or majority of board
Board exercises vote
• Work Session
Planning meeting, informal
Board may take action, but all actions must be ratified at an open session meeting.
• Special Meetings (e.g. assessment, emergency matters)
Called by Board President, majority of board or a percentage of the association
Entire association exercises vote
• Annual Meeting
All shareholders attend and elect the board of directors
How many board meetings must your association hold? The number of required board meetings varies by association, so check your association bylaws. Some associations meet monthly, especially active high-rises, but some only meet quarterly. Regardless of how often your board meets, all of your meetings should be efficient.
What can you do to have better-run and more successful meetings in the future? You can ask for advice from seasoned board members or research meeting guidelines and best practices. You can also look to an experienced property management company to provide your association with valuable guidance and support. To get you started, we’ve compiled some useful tips for effective board meetings – or as we like to call it, “Board Meeting Basics.”
1. Manage participation.
Board meetings can be closed or open. Closed board meetings, or executive sessions, restrict attendance just to board members, while open meetings are open to all association members. Bylaws usually require that there be a quorum in attendance – typically, the majority of the board. Meeting notices must be posted or announced to association members in advance, according to the association’s governing documents.
“In New Jersey, there is no requirement to allow homeowner input during an open meeting,” explained Rogers. “The requirement is that owners and shareholders be allowed to witness the meeting and its votes. However, the New Jersey Condo Act does not require the board to allow owner participation, which I always find interesting. Most boards allow for owners to ask questions and answers at the end of the meeting, which is encouraged but not required. As we provide board member training sessions, we remind the boards that the proper protocol for allowing questions and answers by the owners is to first adjourn the meeting by a motion of the board.”
2. Make the most of your minutes.
And that may mean including less in them. New Jersey law requires that minutes be taken of board meetings, Rogers said, and that they are made available for review before the next board meeting. While the board secretary is typically responsible for the minutes, for ensuring their accuracy and signing them, the secretary may not actually take them. That role can be handled by an assistant community association manager or administrative staffer for the association. In general, the minutes are not supposed to be a verbatim transcript of everything that was said, but rather, a summary of motions made and actions taken.
“Too much information included in your minutes can come back to haunt you,” Rogers explained. “Have the open meeting and record all motions made and actions taken, but close the meeting and end the minutes before opening the meeting to questions and answers or debate. Never include opinions or feedback in the minutes, just the facts as to what happened during the meeting.”
“Another interesting thing about the minutes is for the annual meeting. Technically, annual meetings are meetings of the owners and not of the board. As a matter of fact, an annual meeting can be held without a single board member present,” Rogers explained. “It's on the owners at that annual meeting to vote for the previous year’s annual meeting. So, there are owners who are sitting in the audience voting a year later on minutes for a meeting that they may not have attended. Who can remember and approve what was said a year before?”
3. Keep to an agenda.
Think of your agenda as a meeting road map – a valuable tool to keep participants on topic and facilitate a successful outcome. Your agenda must be publicized in advance of the meeting, and in most cases, the board cannot discuss or act on items that are not included.
“One recommendation for agendas is to have them be timed agendas,” Rogers said. “Even if you don't stick to it as closely as it states, at least the owners have an idea when a certain subject might be discussed and for how long.”
Once the agenda has been set, make sure that board members are provided with every piece of information they need to be able to make decisions efficiently. For example, if your association is voting to choose a contractor for a construction project, provide board members with all of the submitted bids when they get the agenda. That way, they can review everything and be prepared for the discussion.
4. Adopt parliamentary procedure.
As its name implies, parliamentary procedure was introduced by the Parliaments of England in the sixteenth century – and if you’ve attended a board meeting lately, you know that it’s still widely utilized to facilitate meetings today. Parliamentary procedure establishes rules and methods for meeting discussions and debate, thereby maintaining order and allowing all participants to be heard.
While there are different types of parliamentary procedure, the most commonly used is Robert’s Rules of Order – a “how to” guide for conducting business in democratically elected organizations. It is used by all kinds of clubs, corporate boards, social organizations and non-profit boards to conduct effective meetings. Its lasting popularity is based, in part, on how well it prescribes guidelines and formalizes meeting procedures and conduct. The goal of parliamentary procedure is to make sure that every voice has an equal opportunity to be heard and that fairness, inclusivity and efficiency are maintained throughout the meeting.
5. Maintain formality at meetings.
Board meetings are business meetings, not social gatherings. When rumors, off-topic conversation and other distractions direct discussions away from association business, little gets accomplished, wasting everyone’s time. Maintaining a formal, business-like tone also makes it easier for board members to deal with controversial issues like increasing assessments; it’s not personal – it’s business.
Choose a business-type setting as your meeting space; a community meeting room is ideal for this purpose. Never meet in a board member’s home. After you’ve accomplished all of your association business, you can socialize at the end.
As a volunteer board member, you know how critical your role is to serving your association’s needs and ensuring the smooth operations and continued viability of your community. Board meetings are a key part of this process, so it’s very important that they run as efficiently and successfully as possible.