As laws have changed over the past few years and more information has become available online, community association governance has been forced to evolve to new, higher standards. Now more than ever, volunteer board members must understand their role as leaders and decision-makers for their communities, and they must have the tools to communicate effectively with their owners. When it comes to effective communication, we see a good mix of exemplar approaches (many of which were learned from experience) and communities that could benefit from proven strategies. If your community is looking for ways to improve communication, or struggling with a contentious issue and wondering what may help, consider the following options for increasing transparency, educating owners, and fostering community within your association:
Hold regularly scheduled board meetings. If owners do not have access to the business of the association, they may get suspicious of what the board is doing. Unfortunately, all too often, perception is reality for owners. You may meet for months without other owners in attendance, but that does not eliminate the need for meetings that owners can attend if they so choose. Set the time and location of meetings at the beginning of the year and stick to that schedule.
Allow owner access to board members. The community manager often serves as the primary contact person for owners with questions and problems to report. Managers then communicate with the board and take action where appropriate. But the manager should not serve as a substitute for the owner-elected board. Board members must make themselves accessible, typically at board meetings, so that owners can feel more assured that their voices are heard and considered in the board decision-making process. Remember that, under the new records law, owners have a right to obtain board member email addresses, so owner contact with board members is a part of board member service to the community. But remember, too, that all board members must have access to information used to make decisions—so individual board members should avoid secret conversations and promises to owners.
Publish the meeting agendas in advance. Even though Colorado law does not absolutely require association boards to give notice of their meetings to owners or publish meeting agendas on community websites or elsewhere prior to the meeting, successful communities inform owners of the business the board is planning to consider. A common factor for association boards that face trouble after making big decisions tracks back to how the boards communicated with owners prior to the decision. Boards that use multiple opportunities to communicate and give owners notice of impending decisions better avoid damaging dissent within their communities—even if their members do not always agree with the decisions that the boards ultimately make.
Limit decisions outside of meetings to emergencies and matters already discussed in the board room. Boards are required to hold open meetings and permit owners to speak prior to board decisions. If a board is consistently conducting business by email, the board is denying owners their rights. Consider adopting an email decision-making policy that guides when and how the board will make decisions outside of meetings and gives owners an understanding of the rationale for this extraordinary board action.
Make minutes available online as soon after the meetings as possible. Minutes document the decisions of the board and serve as another means of communicating with owners. When motions and the outcome of votes are clearly stated, members can feel more confident that the board members are upholding their duties to the association. Associations need not post draft meeting minutes but also should not withhold approval of minutes either.
Create a newsletter that covers timely topics about community living as well as social highlights from your neighborhood. Each community is unique and deserves a spotlight on the positive attributes that make it a place members want to call home. Engage members of your community in gathering information and reporting the positives from around your neighborhood. A newsletter can include a combination of information about business/covenant matters (such as announcements about dues increases or new trash days and reminders about common landscaping violations) and pieces about upcoming events and member contributions to the association or the larger community.
Educate your board and owners on rights and responsibilities. In many of the meetings that our attorneys attend, the owner and board member desire for information is very apparent. Fear and anger are often driven by lack of understanding. Do not miss the opportunity to inform your owners of how the association operates; you may win over some owners who just needed an explanation of the hows and whys of community living. Our attorneys can attend owner or board meetings to teach classes tailored to your community’s needs.
Help owners navigate potentially confusing situations by adopting clear policies. Has your association looked at its nine mandatory responsible governance policies recently? Do the policies reflect the way that your association operates? These policies can effectively assist owners in understanding how meetings work, what covenant enforcement process applies, when their accounts will go to collection, and what records that owners may inspect, among other things. Your board doesn’t have to “fly by the seat of the pants” when it comes to recurring issues, and past practices may not meet current needs. Adopt policies that guide decision-making and, in the process, help create a common set of expectations among community members.