Does your HOA encourage or discourage member participation?
By Deborah Goonan
I follow several HOA discussion forums and online blogs. One hot topic is how the Board should handle disagreements, complaints, or controversial topics that are brought up at Board meetings.
Now, let’s be realistic. None of us can expect everyone in the Association to agree 100% of the time, or to be so content and satisfied that they never, ever complain. Conflict is inevitable. Differences of opinion are to be expected.
Yet I commonly read commentary from Board members and HOA Managers alike, referring to “naysayers,” disgruntled homeowners, or agitators that show up at every meeting. The discussion often turns into a gripe session about the offensive homeowner(s), and how to shut them up or put them in their place. There is talk of getting the HOA Attorney involved, or having a security officer at every meeting.
While it is true that every HOA seems to have a few difficult owners that can never be pleased, the overall attitude and behavior of the Board and Manager can either quell or exacerbate discord.
One recurring theme I hear from a significant number of HOA Managers and Boards, is that, when owners show up at the meeting, there must be trouble brewing. If owners avoid the meeting, then they are apparently content with the Board’s decisions and fiscal management, and all is right with the world.
The problem is, when reasonable owners show up at a meeting with valid concerns, wary Boards and Managers often treat them as an unwelcome nuisance or troublemakers. At the very least, these owners are bound to extend the meeting. The underlying assumption is that owner participation is something to be feared and avoided.
Yet these are often the same Board members and Managers who lament about rampant apathy in the HOA, and the fact that no one bothers to show up for the annual meeting, or that they cannot seem to attain quorum, even by proxy. They wonder why no one is willing to serve on the Board.
- On the other hand, once in a while a Voice of Reason will offer some suggestions for more harmonious and productive meetings. There are some Board members and HOA Managers that understand how to promote harmony and participation. Here is partial list of some of the better suggestions:
- At the start of the meeting, set the ground rules for discussion. Let the group know when they may address the Board, how much time they will have to speak, and set clear rules for speaking in turn and how to end the discussion, to prevent it from spiraling out of control. Following Robert’s Rules and a standard meeting agenda can go a long way to keeping things civil.
- Don’t label those who disagree as “naysayers,” because such labels cast members in a negative light and convey general disrespect of all members.
- Don’t automatically assume that every complaint is without merit
- Everyone deserves the chance to be heard, even when that point of view differs from the norm. Perhaps someone has a perspective that has never been considered.
- Take the time to actively listen to each speaker of the group, without interruption.
- After an owner has had time to speak his or her mind, ask the group if anyone else in the room has anything they would like to add.
- Encourage the group to offer constructive suggestions or possible compromises, whenever appropriate.
- Don’t rush to provide an answer or vote on a particular issue. It might be best to take additional time to consider alternatives or do additional research, and revisit the matter at a future meeting.
- If appropriate, consider appointing concerned owners to a committee, to get them actively involved in resolving the issue.
Finally, positive interaction at meetings starts with setting the right tone for the HOA. Be open and transparent with members. Communicate regularly. Be respectful. Encourage owners to attend meetings, rather than seeking to avoid them. If the Board and members come to understand that meetings are positive, or at least neutral experiences, there will be greater participation and far less discord.