The “Open Meeting Act” (Civil Code Sections 4900-4955), requires at Section 4925(b) that all membership meetings and board meetings have a time set aside for members to speak. This time is often called “open forum.” In open forum, a member can speak on topics on or off the agenda. Some associations avoid open forum and others have unrestricted open forum, but both extremes are unhealthy. The time for homeowners to contribute to the meeting is not during deliberations – that is the board’s role – but during open forum.
Open forum is an important element of a healthy association. If members have a fair opportunity to address an attentive board, they will have a more positive view of their association, and directors will be better connected with the community they serve.
Consider these guidelines:
- Establish reasonable time limits to protect participation by all. Most associations allow 2 or 3 minutes per speaker. Have a timekeeper and consider giving members a “30 second warning” to help them.
- Do not interrupt, argue with, or respond to the speakers during their time.
- Listen to the speakers and take notes. Show attentiveness to their concerns – you just might learn something new.
- Do not record open forum comments in the meeting minutes – comments are not actions.
- Some speakers may disagree with the board or criticize. Deal with it — you are in a position of service, and they might sometimes be right!
- After open forum concludes, the chair should inquire if any item from open forum should be referred to a committee or management. If an answer to a question is immediately available, then the answer should be provided – after open forum.
- Be consistent. The Chair should not allow comments from the floor outside of open forum and should bar directors from interrupting open forum speakers.
- Consider reopening open forum on issues perceived to be of major importance to the community, or where the board desires member input.
- Do not discuss subjects raised in open forum unless they are already on the agenda. In open forum, members can say what they want, but unless the item is an emergency, it can’t be discussed by the board until it is placed on a posted agenda.
- Adopt written board meeting rules, informing attendees how meetings are run and establishing decorum standards.
To association members:
- Open forum is for members, not tenants or other non-owners. Members desiring to convey information or opinions to the board should personally attend.
- Be organized. Two or three minutes is short. To get your point across, make sure you focus on your point and not everything you can think of.
- Address issues the board can handle, and don’t use your time to talk about global warming or high taxes.
- Don’t play the interrogator and bring a list of questions which you demand must be immediately answered. Open forum is not a debating time or a time to cross-examine your neighbors serving as directors.
- The Golden Rule also applies to open forum. Unless you want directors yelling, insulting, or otherwise abusing you, then don’t do it yourself.
- Outside of open forum, just listen, don’t interject. If you truly want to deliberate agenda topics, run for the board!
Written by Kelly G. Richardson
Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com. Past columns at www.HOAHomefront.com. All rights reserved®.