As annual meeting season approaches, it is inevitable that at least a few associations will face the problem of disruptive members at the annual meeting. While it is true that unruly members exist, a well-prepared board can properly handle any situation that may arise without losing control over the meeting.
The primary purpose of an annual meeting is to elect board members. Too often owners—and sometimes Board members—forget this purpose. Some owners think that the annual meeting is the time to air complaints about everything that went wrong or was not accomplished within the preceding year. This is not the purpose of the annual meeting.
In order to maintain control over the annual meeting, it is important to establish—and stick to—the agenda for the meeting. The agenda should allow for “Old Business” where owners may discuss items carried over from the previous year’s meeting. Additionally, “New Business” is a time when members can introduce new items of business for discussion. These are two times when member discussion is appropriate.
As a board, you want to encourage member participation. Allowing members to participate at annual meetings can make them feel more involved in the management of their association. However, it may open the meeting up to members who speak too long, ramble off topic, and/or yell at the board, property manager, or other association members. A disruptive member can make it difficult to run a productive meeting.
To control member input, set aside time at the annual meeting for member comments and questions when discussing old and new business, but to also limit comments to a set time period to keep the meeting moving along. Establishing procedures will reassure members that the process will be fair and objective, which can help foster trust between the Board and the members.
Some members use the annual meeting as the time to make all of their complaints. At the start of the annual meeting, remind members that in order for the Board to be able to take action on complaints, they must be put in writing and signed by the owner. The Association needs the record to refer to in the
future. It also gives the owner a record of the complaint made to the Association, so it benefits both parties. If it is a maintenance request, then the owner has a record that they asked the association to perform maintenance. If it is a complaint against another owner about rule violations, the association now has evidence of that violation.
If a member refuses to stop talking after his/her time has run, or otherwise disrupts the meeting, there is a recommended process to follow: (1) a board member should issue an oral warning that if the disruption continues, the meeting will be adjourned or the police will be called to remove the disrupting individual; (2) if the member continues to disrupt, the board member should call a recess and speak directly to the member, reiterating that either the meeting will be cancelled or the police will be called; and (3) if the member still refuses to cooperate, either adjourn the meeting to another time or call the police.
If you decide to call the police, you may have the member removed as a trespasser or as a disorderly person. Each of these options depends on the specific circumstances. A member voicing an opinion that the Board does not like is not necessarily disrupting the meeting.
Remember, the ranting of a person who lacks credibility in the community will not carry much weight, and if the board reacts in too heavy-handed a manner, it will only lend credence to the member’s comments.