Many states require an HOA board to set aside comment time for each member to speak during open meetings, including North Carolina. While this a great feature to have in your HOA because it gives each member a voice and opinion about the community they live in, you’ll also want to have an understanding of guidelines during this time. Here are what you should and shouldn’t do when addressing open comments in HOA meetings.
Addressing Open Comments in HOA Meetings Explained
A lot of states require, by law, for open forums to take place at meetings — whether it be an annual meeting or any other meeting open to all members of the community. HOA board meetings don’t automatically fall under this rule, though you may need to check your state laws and governing documents to be sure.
As an HOA board member, you’re probably wondering why it’s even necessary to have an open forum during these meetings. They usually take up a lot of time and are typically used by homeowners to complain about small problems. Well, the importance of an open forum couldn’t be any simpler.
Open forums are inherently supposed to be a platform for members of the community to voice out their concerns. By allowing them to do this, you build trust and show them you care about their problems. While you may not be able to solve all of the issues at once, open comments foster a sense of fellowship and solidarity that HOAs thrive on.
This doesn’t mean there can be no rules when it comes to HOA open forums. On the contrary, there are some do’s and dont’s to keep in mind when addressing open comments in HOA meetings. Let’s take a look at them below:
1. Do: Tell Them What to Expect
It’s important to explain to your members that nothing can be discussed outside of the meeting agenda. You are allowed to ask members in the meeting if there’s anything else they’d like you to consider, but the most you can say is that it will be collected and added to the next meeting agenda.
This isn’t simply a suggestion. In fact, some state laws require that an issue not be discussed unless it’s mentioned on the agenda. For instance, in California, the Open Meeting Act (Civil Code §1363.05) states that no action can be taken on issues not present on the HOA meeting agenda.
Make sure these expectations are clearly explained to members prior to the open forum. If the expectations are clearly explained beforehand, it can reduce the number of members who arrive frustrated because you won’t address their problems right there and then.
2. Don’t: Set the Wrong Precedent
In line with the first item, HOA board members must be careful to follow the rules. If you’re required to refrain from taking action on issues outside of the agenda, make sure you stick to it. Don’t be tempted to break the rules, even if it’s “just this once.” Doing this sets the wrong precedent, and members may call you out on it in future meetings.
While you may think it’s nothing to be worried about, setting the wrong precedent can be dangerous. It opens you up to accusations of favoritism — even when you didn’t mean to single out one person — and breeds further contempt. Not only that, if your state has laws concerning this rule, you may be risking legal liability.
3. Do: Choose the Right Time
If the law and your HOA governing documents allow your board to schedule open comment time at any time during the meeting, you’re free to do so. But, if your bylaws require the HOA open forum to take place at a certain point, you must adhere to them.
It’s a good idea to determine if it works better for your HOA to schedule open forums at the beginning or end of your meeting. Both options have their faults. For instance, if you wait until the end of the meeting, you run the risk of members leaving the meeting too early and then getting upset later if their issue doesn’t get mentioned.
On the other hand, this end-of-the-meeting schedule may work well for some other associations. Having open comments at the beginning of the meeting allows members to share their concerns first and then leave before the agenda can even be brought up. Although having them stick around for the entire meeting is ideal, it may be better to let them leave as they please. Experiment with different times until you find what works best for your HOA.
4. Don’t: Make Promises
Being a leader in your community association is fulfilling, but the job does come with a fair amount of stress. You’re expected to solve problems on a daily basis and even more so when you’re addressing open comments in HOA meetings. More often than not, you can’t do anything but listen to residents’ complaints. And, since you can’t take action when issues aren’t on the agenda, homeowners might feel like you don’t care.
A simple acknowledgment allows you to handle open comments gracefully. Tell the complainant that you hear them and understand what they’re trying to say. Let them know their concern has been noted and will be discussed at a later date. Most of all, thank them for their input. It’s easy for board members to want to help and feel pressure to provide a solution or answer immediately after issues are brought up, but you’ll have to stand firm. Sometimes, all they need is to be heard.
5. Do: Introduce a Speaking Time Limit
Your board will need a strong leader or HOA manager who can enforce the amount of time allowed from each open comment. One idea is to have members fill out a comment slip describing their issue in summary. Then, you can set a speaking time limit for each member. This will help in managing time, especially if there are many people present who’d like to give their input, while still allowing everyone the chance to speak. Since it’s not an item on the agenda, you’ll want to prevent people from getting into a debate.
Generally, 3-5 minutes give each person enough time to express their qualms, though the time limit may vary from community to community. See what works best for your own HOA.
Addressing Open Comments is a Part of the Job
In the end, it’s your duty as a board member to learn how to handle open comments from the community. It may not be the best part of the job description, but it’s certainly a necessary one. These tips will help your board manage open comment time while encouraging member feedback and satisfaction.
HOA open forums give everyone an opportunity to let their voices be heard, and it’s also a great way to spot residents who are passionate about the community. If you happen to come across such a homeowner, encourage them to run for a position on the board in the future.
If you’re having trouble addressing open comments in HOA meetings, you can always turn to an HOA management company for help. Contact us for more information.