"Civility" is a new "buzz word" as a result of the outburst of the South Carolina congressman who yelled "you lie" during President Obama’s address to the members of the Senate and House of Representatives last week. Regardless of how one feels about the health care reform debate, this interruption of the President’s speech by a member of the U.S. Congress was a shocking breach of decorum and left me feeling less than confident that our current elected officials would be able to reach any constructive resolutions to the important issues and challenges that we face.
I’ve had similar feelings recently after leaving several board or membership meetings in resident owned communities. The past few years have seen a pronounced decrease in courtesy and respect and an increase in volume and vitriol. I’m sure that almost every resident reading this has had at least one unpleasant experience with a board or membership meeting that deteriorated into a shouting match or name-calling contest.
While no one should have to be told that his or her neighbor should be treated with respect and courtesy, the unfortunate reality is that ROC boards and managers must occasionally deal with residents that refuse to behave in a civil manner at board or membership meetings.
Florida Statutes governing board meetings in resident owned communities provide some assistance to ROC managers and board members:
- F.S. Sections 718.112(2)(c) and 719.106(1)(c), which apply to condominium associations and cooperative associations respectively, give unit owners the right to speak at board meetings on "all designated agenda items" but also allow ROCs to "adopt written reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration, and manner of unit owner statements" to be made at board meetings.
- F.S. Section 720.303(2)(b), which applies to meetings of mandatory homeowners associations, specifies that members can "speak on any matter placed on the agenda by petition of the voting interests for at least 3 minutes" but again allows the association to adopt written reasonable rules "expanding the right of members to speak and governing the frequency, duration, and other manner of member statements" and also allows for the inclusion of "a sign-in sheet for members wishing to speak".
Note that all three statutes require that the rules governing members speaking at board meetings be written.
It’s always helpful for the person chairing the meeting to be able to remind the membership at the beginning of the meeting or prior to the time for membership comments that the community does have these written rules and that each member will be expected to follow those rules.
We’ve helped numerous communities prepare written rules governing the behavior of residents at board and general membership meetings and have found that these rules do help to discourage "gadflies" and other residents that attempt to engage in disruptive, discourteous, or uncivil behavior.
If your community does not have written rules for these situations, you may be missing an important tool to help ensure that your members treat each other with the courtesy and respect that each resident in your community deserves.