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An Agenda With Time Limits Helps Meetings Run Smoothly


Question: We try to conduct our monthly board meetings properly, and yet there are some people who are disrespectful and interrupt the meetings with complaints and demands. Our meetings become long and nonproductive because one former board member wants to give his opinion on every topic of discussion.

It is hard to remain patient when the troublemakers take up so much time. How can we control the meetings so that we can take care of business without a four-hour meeting?

Answer: The board is required to allow the owners to speak; however, they should not be allowed to disrupt the meeting. Time limits have to be imposed in a fair and consistent manner.

It is my belief that any association board meeting that lasts longer than two hours is too long. Board members become bored and so do the owners. It is difficult to find board members when the meetings are inefficient or unnecessarily lengthy.

Advance communication is important, but remember that communication is a two-way street. Owners have a right to know what is happening in their association. I think that some boards do not communicate well enough with the owners, and boards sometimes don't like to listen to their fellow owners. Boards have an obligation to listen and the law requires it, so find a way to make it work.

Conducting an effective board meeting requires planning and effort. Every association board meeting should have a written, detailed agenda showing that the board will be conducting a business meeting: approving prior meeting minutes, reviewing financial reports, reviewing committee and management reports and acting on the motions that will be addressed at the meeting.

If there is a central location near the mailboxes or an association bulletin board, post the agenda in advance of the meeting. Mention on the agenda that there will be an opportunity before the meeting for owners to express their opinions or share their concerns with the board. With 20 years of experience as a manager, I can tell you that having the open forum at the beginning of the meeting is usually the most effective.

After the board starts its meeting, the owners become observers, not participants. If disruptive owners cause problems, the president should politely ask them to leave so that the business affairs of the association can be handled. If this occurs, it is best for a calm board member to call or meet with the disruptive people a day or two after the meeting to try to mediate the problems and gain their cooperation.

Some associations adopt rules of conduct for their meetings. The president conducts the open forum as if it were a city council meeting. Each person who wishes to speak fills out an information card with his or her name and the subject he or she wants to discuss. Depending upon the number of people who wish to speak, the open forum time is divided fairly so that each person has equal time.

A detailed agenda distributed to the owners in advance is helpful. The owners will know what motions are being considered and they can give their opinions before the meeting.

I prefer using a timed agenda because that informs the owners that their time is limited and the board is conducting a business meeting. Having the time noted in the margin of the agenda will help the president keep the meeting on track. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish just by staying focused on the time factor.

By preparing a written agenda a week or so before the meeting and attaching any supporting information (for the board members only), the board will arrive ready to make decisions. If there are questions or concerns about an item, table it until more research can be done or form an ad hoc committee to gather additional information for the board. The president should not allow extensive discussion by board members if it appears that a decision will not be reached.

Boards should be cautious about making hasty decisions, but they should also try to deal with matters as speedily as possible so the same agenda items don't remain on the agenda for months. Seek the advice of professionals when the decisions are weighty and costly.

A professional manager assists the board with the planning of the agenda and preparation. He or she can greatly enhance the meeting experience with advice at every step of the process, including handling difficult people. If your association does not have a manager, you might want to seek the advice of a parliamentarian or your association's attorney.

As a last resort, if an owner is repeatedly abusive and disruptive, an attorney can assist you with legal steps, such as an injunction, to prevent the person from continuing to harm the association by undermining the effectiveness of the board.

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