Does your state require that HOA Boards allow a time for open comments during each HOA meeting? Many do, including North Carolina. During these open comment periods, members of the community are permitted to stand and essentially say whatever’s on their mind—asking questions or proposing action for the Board members to take.
This can be a healthy period of dialogue but it can also be stressful on the part of Board members. The stress comes when you’re not quite sure how to handle open comments. By following a few basic guidelines, you can get a better handle on things, and hopefully offer a more meaningful response.
You Can’t Take Action Right Away
The first thing to do is set some of the expectations for open comment periods. Remember that your Board cannot take action or vote on any item that was not already included on the agenda. So, while community members can bring items to your attention, they cannot expect you to take action right away.
Likewise, while they may want answers to their concerns right off the bat, the only correct response you can offer for a non-agenda item is, “we will study this issue and add it to the agenda for our next meeting.”
Why Open Comments Can Be Frustrating
All of this can be hard—both for community members and for Board members. Community members want answers, and may get frustrated if they feel like you’re blowing them off. And Board members probably care deeply about the issues being discussed, and they may truly want to offer substantive answers.
Still, to preserve meeting efficiency and fairness—and to comply with HOA laws—the best bet is to offer a sincere word of thanks for the input, promise to revisit it at the next meeting, and then move on to the next thing.
Further Tips for Open Comment Time
In addition to clarifying expectations—and standing by your policies—some further open comment tips include:
- Have open comments at the start of the meeting, allowing members to say their piece and then leave, if they wish.
- Enforce a 3-5 minute time limit for each speaker, especially if you find yourself getting a lot of people who want to talk.
- Make sure one Board member can be strong and consistent in enforcing these open comment policies.
- Try to identify people who seem to have a real, constructive interest in the HOA—and encourage them to run for a Board position!
Keep these tips in mind to keep your open comment time as constructive as possible!