It seems the thrust of my column is to address issues that only occur in a minimal number of situations. Although some things happen infrequently, it seems these issues or problems have the greatest negative impact. (I believe that’s what they call the tail wagging the dog.)
One of the most destructive situations is the unruly owner at a meeting. Most associations have difficulty getting anyone to come to Board meetings. There are times, though, when someone attending a meeting goes beyond the bounds of civility. In these cases, it is important for the president, the directors and the manager to know what tools are available to secure this “loose cannon on a rolling deck.”
Many directors are catapulted into the role of the president because they demonstrate quiet leadership, good instincts, intelligence and/or many other admirable qualities. Unfortunately, many of these individuals are not prepared to deal with confrontation at open meetings either by training or temperament. Some very fine presidents of associations have felt foolish in front of their owners because they did not know how to address the angry owner. Here are some suggestions that I have recommended over the years:
Get a gavel — this is not to suggest that you bang a hole in the table, but a firm rap calling the meeting to order will sometimes get an out of turn speaker quiet. If the individual is unruly or monopolizes a question and answer owners forum, remind people of the time limit on this session and maybe others who wish to speak will exert peer pressure. Be firm about sticking to time limits. In anticipation of a confrontation, appoint a “strong” personality as Sergeant at Arms and pass the gavel. Never engage in shouting or physical contact, but sometimes the knowledge that the person with the gavel will not tolerate disruption, will stem the tide. Take a short recess. If possible, use this as an opportunity to talk to this individual one-on-one to see if you can at least reach an agreement on proceeding.
Have one of the directors poised to make a motion to adjourn, which is a motion of precedence according to the Rules of Parliamentary Procedures. If you are compelled to cancel a few meetings, an individual looking for a public forum may become discouraged. Implement a set of rules levying a fine for disrupting board meetings after several warnings. If there are numerous instances and fine situations, then consider suspending the member’s rights to attend a meeting. This will require hiring security to admit people to the meeting during the suspension period. This is an extreme, but as some of us know, we have seen certain behaviors extend beyond extreme. Owners are permitted to videotape meetings; why not the Board? See how your demagogue behaves with a video camera pointed at them. If the meeting is out of control, an individual is behaving in a threatening manner and the board feels it is in jeopardy, call the police. Remember, the crime of assault does not require physical contact (that’s battery). Hire a security guard to admit only authorized people. Give passes to all owners who request one (other than the person disrupting meetings). If all else fails, invite the attorney to come and run the meeting. While we are not law enforcement professionals, sometimes the announcement that legal counsel is running the meeting is enough of a deterrent.
Sometimes board meetings can become tense because the issue is controlling owner conduct, legislating how people can live or the collection of a large assessment. Most of these situations can be handled with a calm hand, a little common sense and a little leadership. However, when an owner engages in extreme behavior and refuses to respond to any cues to back down, the board needs to be ready to take back control of the meeting.
Originally published in Daily Herald (September 1999).
Since 1983, KSN has been a legal resource for condominium, homeowner, and townhome associations. Additionally, we represent clients in real estate transactions, collections, landlord/tenant issues, and property tax appeals. We have four office locations, serving hundreds of clients and thousands of communities throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Our attorneys are also licensed in Arizona, Florida, and Missouri.
If our law firm can be of assistance, please call 855-537-0500 or visit www.ksnlaw.com.