I cringe every time a member of a resident owned condominium or cooperative association mentions that an event has been scheduled to "meet the candidates" running for the board of directors of that community.
It’s clear from the Florida Statutes governing the election of directors in condominium associations and cooperative associations that there is a very specific process that must be followed. For example, if a candidate requests that the association include an information sheet with the election materials to be sent to the unit owners, that sheet must be no larger than 8 and 1/2 inches by 11 inches, and must be furnished by the candidate to the association at least 35 days before the election.
The applicable Florida Administrative Code sections are even more specific and make it clear that the role of the association is to remain completely impartial in regards to any and all candidates. Both cooperative associations and condominium associations are expressly prohibited from editing, altering, or otherwise modifying the content of that information sheet and the original copy of that sheet becomes part of the association’s official records.
The intent that the association remain completely impartial during the election process is also evident in the requirements set forth in the Florida Administrative Code that the association must obtain the consent of two or more candidates before "consolidating into a single side of a page the candidate information sheets submitted by those candidates".
Of course, the requirements that the ballot itself only indicate the candidates in alphabetical order and that the ballot not indicate which candidate or candidates are incumbents on the board (as well as the prohibition of write-in candidates) is further evidence of the desire for a purely impartial election process free from interference or influence by the association.
Now, what happens if, in the midst of this process, the association decides to sponsor or schedule a "meet the candidates" event–and one or more of the candidates is unable to attend? Or one candidate is not allowed to speak as long as the other candidates? Or perhaps the sound system goes out after the first two candidates speak and the other candidates are not able to be heard by all of the members in attendance?
How about a candidate (or one or more of his followers) that wants to pass out (or does in fact circulate) additional campaign materials at this event? Can the association allow this at an association sponsored event? If so, are these materials now part of the "official records" of the association?
Finally, what happens when one of the candidates who is not elected to the board of directors complains that he lost the election because:
- he was unable to attend the "meet the candidates" event and notified the association but the association refused to reschedule,
- he wasn’t allowed to speak for as long as the other candidates,
- other candidates were distributing additional campaign materials at the event and he was not told this would be allowed,
- the sound system went out while he was speaking, or
- he didn’t feel he needed to attend the event since he had already provided the association with his information sheet
I’m not sure any condominium or cooperative association wants to find out whether an arbitrator with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation or a judge in one of our county or circuit (or appellate) courts will agree with that candidate when he argues that the association, by sponsoring that "meet the candidates" event, violated the provisions of the Florida Statutes and the Florida Administrative Code that seek to protect and preserve the impartiality of the election process.
Hopefully, ROC boards will consider these concerns when deciding whether to sponsor or schedule "meet the candidates" events in the future.