A board meeting is one of the most common gatherings held in a community with a homeowners’ association (HOA). Typically hosted monthly or quarterly, elected leaders meet to conduct association business, discuss operations, set policy, report on maintenance, dispute resolutions, review future plans, and more.
While resident attendance isn’t always mandatory, it’s important for homeowners to be present and participate. By identifying the goals of the board and providing feedback, homeowners help keep the board accountable and promote harmony within the community. A board meeting’s open forum provides the perfect opportunity for homeowners to voice their opinions and ask questions. Because homeowner input can affect board member decisions, this special part of the meeting should be approached with thought and care. Read on to learn more about open forums and how to effectively manage them during your HOA board meetings.
What is an Open Forum?
An open forum is a portion of an HOA meeting in which homeowners are invited to take the floor, address the board, express their opinions, and voice their concerns. The open forum can occur during the beginning or end of a meeting, depending on the association and any applicable rules. Integral to the successful operations of a community, an open forum may be a requirement highlighted in a community’s governing documents or state, local, or provincial laws.
Why are Open Forums Important?
The open forum is an important tool for strengthening the homeowner-board relationship. By making time for public comment or open discussion in your meeting, homeowners feel acknowledged and recognize their value as community members. An inclusive atmosphere at your board meeting not only drives participation, but also encourages long-term involvement within the HOA. When you run engaging and productive board meetings, you’ll see that interest in the community will continue to grow—along with efficiency and general morale.
Tips for Managing an Open Forum
While a board of directors makes decisions for the community, resident input confirms those decisions reflect their wishes. To facilitate participation and optimize your open forum discussions, it’s crucial to set parameters for managing one. Here are some tips to guarantee your open forum goes as planned.
Add it to the agenda.
Ensure you dedicate time to hear from your constituents by adding the open forum to the agenda. Depending on what works best for your board, schedule the open forum towards the beginning or end of the meeting. Setting it early may allow for more contributors, while scheduling it for later in the meeting gives you more time to cover other matters first. Ultimately, by including it on the agenda, you’re able to set the pace for the meeting—and show that you value the community’s feedback.
Set a speaker time limit.
To keep the meeting on track, consider setting a time limit for those who want to speak during an open forum. So that more people have an opportunity to talk, many associations allow each speaker an allotted time of two to five minutes. That’s generally enough time to efficiently communicate a thought or opinion. Always implement time limits fairly and give each speaker the same amount of time.
Make the board president or an appointed timekeeper responsible for ensuring the conversation stays within the timeframe. Consider giving members a 30-second warning before their time ends, and always re-focus the discussion if it’s outside of scope.
Establish ground rules.
While an open forum is necessary, it’s often the part of the meeting when tensions rise, and conflict appears. For most boards, it’s usually within their power to establish rules for those participating in an open forum. While everyone should be inspired to talk, setting some basic guidelines advances productivity. To maintain a harmonious meeting environment, use the beginning of the meeting to walk through the agenda and announce the ground rules. Try these three easy-to-follow speaker rules:
- Stay on topic. Express thoughts, opinions, and concerns about items that are on the agenda.
- Wait your turn. Practice patience and keep from interrupting someone else’s speaking time.
- Be respectful. Show civility; personal attacks, name-calling, and insults will not be tolerated.
Maintain the formalities.
As representatives of the community, all board members must commit to professional and polite behavior and speech at a meeting—even when discussions become heated. To maintain order during the open forum, address speakers and fellow board members formally. For board members, mister/madam president, chairman/chairwoman of the board, and board member (insert last name), are all formal acknowledgements. Address homeowner speakers as mister/miss (insert last name), doctor (insert last name), or by any other formal title they wish. Also remember to thank each person for their contribution. By addressing people formally and following a formal meeting structure, you’re better able to maintain control and guide conduct expressed by both board members and homeowners.
Ideally, each person who wishes to address the board can do so, and as a leader in your community, you must hear them out with an open mind. Listening is an essential board member skill. When a resident is speaking, listen carefully and never interrupt. Ask questions when appropriate, use similar, plain language when responding, and have a reasonable understanding of the issue before moving on. If things get out of hand, declare a break in the meeting. Suggest a refreshment break and reconvene when everyone is clear-headed. Or propose tabling the topic and setting up a meeting to discuss the specific issue at a later date.
Transform Your Community Meetings
While vital to community operations, meetings can sometimes lack proper planning, structure, and attendance. We created our latest ebook, “A Board Member’s Guide to Running Better Meetings,” to change that and help board members prepare, plan, and run better board meetings. Download it now!