With the passage of HB 320 (see Jim Slaughter’s article: Bill Adopted to Allow Electronic Membership Meetings and Voting in North Carolina Associations) we are seeing more communities opting to conduct electronic membership meetings to encourage greater participation and community interest in these meetings. Our attorneys collectively—and particularly our two Certified Professional Parliamentarians, Jim Slaughter and Michael Taliercio—have participated in more virtual meetings than anyone, and we find that having good meeting rules in place before the meeting takes place is key to a successful outcome. Although it usually is not necessary to tailor rules for each individual meeting an association has, the issues we see are generally the same across different types of communities. The following are some basic rules to consider adopting and communicating to the membership in advance of your virtual meeting. These rules are designed to maintain order, protect the rights of owners to participate and be heard, and foster a positive outcome for all involved.
- Use a well-known platform to conduct the meeting, such as Zoom and GoToMeeting. You want to choose a format that is already familiar to as many people as possible and which has capabilities for both the facilitator and participants to take appropriate actions during the meeting such as creating a waiting room, muting, and allowing chatting.
- Limit participation in the meeting to owners or their lawful designees. Establish a check-in process with a waiting room or personal code to make sure, to the extent possible and reasonable, that only those persons who should be in the meeting can participate.
- Establish a procedure to check in and verify proxies, so that participants are able to be counted for themselves and any proxies that they may have. Ideally, proxies should be provided to the meeting administrator in advance of the meeting.
- Make it clear that individual connectivity issues will not delay the meeting or be the basis of a challenge to any vote or other actions taken.
- Let participants know that they will be muted at the start of the meeting and should remain muted unless recognized by the Chair. Participants should also be asked to join the meeting from a quiet location with few distractions. This will support the right of everyone to hear and be heard.
- Tell participants how they can ask to be recognized to speak during the meeting. The Zoom raise hand feature, or a comment through chat, allows the Chair to recognize the speaker at the appropriate time.
- If someone is recognized to speak, they need to identify themselves by stating their name or association address. We do realize that sometimes a participant won’t feel comfortable doing this, and in that case it may be appropriate to make other arrangements. However, this should be the default rule.
- Ask that remarks be addressed to the Chair and not directly to other members. This discourages snide comments and personal attacks (and complies with Robert’s Rules of Order). Speakers should also have a set time to speak (for example, 3 minutes), which may be shortened or lengthened as appropriate.
- Participants should be informed that the Chair may cause or direct the muting or disconnecting of a participant in the event the participant causes undue interference with the meeting or fails to follow the directions of the Chair. Establishing this rule in advance can head off problems and can prevent allegations of surprise disconnection or muting after the fact.
No one size fits all–smaller meetings with few issues have different concerns than very large meetings with many issues. But one size fits most, and these rules generally will help keep your meetings productive and civil. Consider sharing them with the participants in advance, including them with the meeting notice, and reminding participants that the meeting will be conducted pursuant to these rules at the outset.
Virtual meetings are certainly the future, and establishing good etiquette for them now will serve associations well into the future. If you have any questions about conducting a successful virtual meeting, please reach out to any of our community association attorneys.