Community Board Elections: A Challenge or an Opportunity

It’s that time of year again.  The election for the Board of Directors is looming and, depending on your community dynamics, you may have complete apathy with no one wanting to run or polarized factions each fostering their own candidates and agenda.  How can a community Board of Directors prepare to make their election a positive experience that provides the building blocks for the future?
Know your governing documents
Too many community associations hold their elections without reference to their governing documents and state statute.  Some base their election processes on past tradition with no reference to the requirements of their Bylaws or statutory requirements.  It is a wise practice to create an outline of your election process utilizing your professional community manager for reference and industry practices, and certainly, involving your association attorney for a final review and approval. 
Remember that your documents are the framework of your election procedures.  A community association must determine how they will fulfill the requirements, always with an eye toward engaging community members and creating a positive atmosphere. A formal resolution of the Board can be created, perhaps with the assistance of a Covenants or Ad Hoc committee, to provide a step-by-step process that the Association will follow.
Key elements of election procedures
Some of the most important elements that should be considered are:
  • The timeline of election activities: Work backward from the election date and ensure that notice of election, call for candidates, nomination timing and other events take place in keeping with the specified timeline.  If the documents do not provide guidance on an event, create a reasonable time limit.  The timeline can be changed later by another vote of the Board if adjustments are needed.
  • Election forms: Creating templates for notice, nominations, candidate information sheets, ballots, etc. makes the annual meeting preparation much simpler and helps to avoid confusion.  Give careful thought to matters such as how the Association will carry out a “secret ballot” if that is what is required. How will you list the candidates’ names so there is no appearance of favoritism? (Alphabetically is a standard practice but not necessarily the only method.)  What is the format for turning in nominations and the criteria for qualified voters and nominees?
  • Careful record keeping: The minutes of the election meeting, proof of notice and ballots are records that belong to the Association and therefore the membership.  Record the baseline quorum requirements and maintain the sign-in sheet and proxies/absentee ballots as documentation that quorum was met. Records such as these are proof that the election was handled in a legal and fair manner.  If you have professional management, they should create a file for the holding of these items which are required to be retained according to your records retention guidelines, at a minimum.
 Communicate with Association members
It is essential to communicate with your members in order to run a successful Board election.  Even if you have a community that does not seem interested in how the community is run, members should know how the election process works. They should be advised on the role of the Board, any open seats and the need for participation to meet quorum. And if you have an active community, clear and timely notices and well-considered forms and templates allow the focus to be on the issues and candidates, rather than bickering over a missed deadline or a perceived procedural flaw.
Dealing with Association apathy
If you do have the problem of attaining quorum because of a lack of community interest, consider combining your election meeting with a community social activity. What will draw your neighbors together – food, a raffle, some light entertainment?  Get creative in order to bring folks to the meeting and, once you have your audience, draw them in further with brief and well prepared communications from the Board. Be sure to share plans for the future and the positive impact on property values with a well-governed community. 
Prepare for after the election
Your election has taken place.  The new Board Members have been chosen, or old ones re-elected.  Now what?  The best communities use this time as an opportunity for focusing on the future while engaging their residents.  Newly elected directors should meet with prior Board Members to have a “passing of the torch”.  Usually the officers are elected in a reorganization meeting with each office having its own powers and responsibilities that should be understood and carefully considered before the Board is reconstructed.
Once this is done, another communication should be sent to the members advising them of their newly constituted Board, their meeting schedule and the best method for communicating with them. Your professional community management company should hold an orientation and education meeting with the new members at a minimum, but preferably with the entire Board, to cover key topics such as confidentiality, fiduciary duty, and officers’ roles. The management company should also review financial, budgetary and reporting aspects of the Board member position. The Board should review current action items and prepare to set broad based goals for the coming year.
Elections in any community can be a reason for concern. But if you prepare in advance, make certain that your procedures are consistent with your governance requirements, overlay the basic procedural requirements with practices that meet the specific needs of your community and, throughout this entire process, communicate openly and thoughtfully to your association members, you will create a solid basis for leadership development and a harmonious community environment to the good of your community association’s future. A professional community management company can help you navigate the entire Board election. You can contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading community management company, for guidance on holding successful Community Board elections.