My most recent brush with the electoral process as a candidate occurred in 1989. I was primed and ready to be the Sergeant at Arms of my elementary school student council, and willing to campaign, press palms, kiss babies, and bribe the administration to make that dream a reality. Sure, I didn’t know what a Sergeant at Arms actually did, but I knew it was my calling. I had stickers and everything.
After the returns were tallied I was devastated to lose to the cute kid who forgot his campaign speech and thus garnered the sympathy demographic. I immediately moved to another state.
Over thirty years later, I’m a community association attorney living with the new reality caused by the pandemic. Many clients are conducting meetings of differing sizes, purposes, and civility by electronic means. Zoom, WebEx, Teams, and other applications facilitate these meetings, but taking attendance, verifying quorum, muting and unmuting speakers throughout the meeting, handling voting and polling, and maintaining order is a little more difficult electronically than it is in person. Scrolling through my handy-dandy copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, I stopped on the definition of “Sergeant at Arms” (finally!) and thought about the position and its value in client meetings today. The Sergeant at Arms assists in keeping the meeting orderly as directed by the meeting chairperson. It can be a broad job description; no wonder I had no idea what I was running for.
Administering the logistical side of an electronic meeting distracts from the business at hand. To ensure that Board members and important attendees, such as management and counsel, are ready and available to conduct and assist with business, Boards may consider appointing a Sergeant at Arms to handle the administrative side of the electronic meeting. This person should be extremely conversant in the platform selected by the Board, and ready to help out attendees who are less familiar with electronic meetings so that everyone has a fair chance to attend and be enfranchised. Plan in advance for how you will conduct your meetings this fall, and consider seeking volunteers or speaking to your management company today, to ensure that your meetings will run smoothly and legally this autumn.
I’ll probably always regret not being politically savvy enough to target the elementary school sympathy demographic, but am grateful that the lessons I learned as a child are so useful today!