5 Tips to Avoid Abusive Behavior at Board Meetings

January 14, 2020

Election season is over. For many of our Boards, this is an opportunity to go over and begin go implement your goals for the year. One thing that can quickly take away your enthusiasm for the year (and make you wonder why you volunteered to do this in the first place) is an angry member whose behavior escalates to harassing, intimidating, abusive, or even threatening levels. While we'd like to think everyone can be civil and act as adults, there are a lot of emotions that come into play when you are trying to enforce your restrictions and someone ends up feeling targeted. To help you to a successful year of business, we'd like to offer these tips to our clients based on our years of experience navigating these tough situations.

#1 Rely on your CAM

One of the key roles of a licensed Community Association Manager ("CAM") is to run an efficient and productive board meeting. Most CAMs are trained and experienced in navigating tough situations and dealing with difficult personalities. Having your CAM run your board meeting will give you a layer of insulation and prevent issues between you and your neighbor escalate. Knowing when to allow conversation to continue and when to pound the figurative gavel to move the conversation along and in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order can be tricky to balance, so its best left to the professionals that you hire to help guide your community.

#2 Create and follow a detailed agenda

Nothing helps a meeting stay on track like a detailed agenda. Think of your agenda as your GPS navigation to a productive meeting! This is important because both Chapter 718 and Chapter 720 allow homeowners the opportunity to speak on all agenda items. If you utilize a broad agenda or leave all discussion to a general "new business" agenda item, you invite those in attendance to interrupt to share their opinions (sometimes forcefully and aggressively). In the same vein, if you, as a director, go off topic from the agenda, you are similarly inviting additional conversation that you may not wish to engage in. A detailed and specific agenda should be provided to the Board well in advance of the meeting and provided to owners via the notice and physically at the meeting itself.

Think of your agenda as your GPS navigation to a productive meeting!

#3 Adopt rules regarding conduct at meetings

Both Chapters 718 and 720 permit the Boards to adopt rules governing the "frequency, duration, and other manner" of members' statements at a board meeting. Despite this specific language in the statutes, we find that many Boards do not have any such rules in place. Some common rules we recommend are: i) requiring that owners sign in with your CAM at the beginning of the meeting if they are requesting to speak on an agenda item; ii) setting a time limit on the owner's statement(s); iii) disallowing a second statement until all others have had an opportunity to speak; and iv) setting when the owner may be allowed to speak (after a motion made and duly-seconded and discussion by the Board concluded).

#4 Add a "Civility" Clause

An option (which may be difficult to pursue because of the requirements you may have to amend your Declaration) could also be to formalize the need for civility by adding a clause to your Declaration that requires that members shall not engage in abusive or threatening behavior either physical or verbal against the Board of Directors or other members of the association, and their guests and invitees. Any breach of this covenant could be treated as a violation and result in demand letters from management or your law firm. While this may be more symbolic than anything, as we wouldn't recommend filing a lawsuit over this, it could be effective in curbing some unwanted behavior.

#5 Invite a police officer

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts to de-escalate or set standards and guidelines for conduct, it may be necessary to have a police officer present. While a physical altercation may be unlikely, we've been in many meetings where the mere presence of an individual causes board members or others in attendance to feel uncomfortable. In these instances, we feel that it is better to be safe than sorry. Law enforcement should be notified and their attendance requested if you feel that there's any risk or threat of a conflict becoming physical.

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