Last month’s Meeting Moment column discussed how to use parliamentary procedure to re-direct homeowner comments to a more appropriate time.  Now let’s assume that time has arrived.

For example, let’s say you’re preparing for a special homeowners meeting to discuss a controversial issue.  You anticipate a large crowd with lots of people who will want to speak.  How can you as the meeting chair keep the debate under control, yet give everyone who wants to speak an opportunity to do so?

Parliamentary Tip:  Consider adopting temporary conduct of meeting rules for this one large meeting only.  Parliamentary procedure is specifically designed to help debates, with large numbers of people, go smoothly.  The following useful strategies help ensure that everyone in a large, controversial meeting gets a fair and equal opportunity to speak and participate by making motions.

If your conduct of meeting policy does not already include these strategies, we’d recommend adopting them only as temporary meeting rules for a large meeting only, because they are too restrictive and not necessary for routine homeowner meetings or smaller meetings:

  • Require everyone who wishes to speak to sign up to do so
  • If a vote will be held on an issue, have speakers sign up on either the “pro” or “con” list
  • Call on speakers in the order they sign up, alternating pro and con

As an alternative, the chair may ask people to form lines to speak, with pro on one side of the room and con on the other.  This strategy has the disadvantage of making it harder for the disabled, elderly and those with children from speaking.

  • People who wish to speak a second time may sign up again, but will only be called on after everyone who hasn’t yet had a turn has spoken
  • Nominate a timekeeper, then ask the timekeeper to hold up yellow and red time cards for the convenience of the speakers and the chair (yellow at “30 seconds left”, red at “speaker’s time is up”)
  • Consider reducing the length of time to speak to 2 minutes
  • Require all motions and amendments to motions to be made in writing

Two more recommendations which are not necessary to adopt as temporary rules:

  • If the board president should respond to questions, someone else should chair the meeting.  The chair must be neutral when he or she moderates a meeting about a controversial issue
  • Plan your agenda to allow sufficient time for everyone to speak.  For example, if you anticipate 20 people will speak, if 10 of them may want to speak twice, and if your conduct of meetings policy allows each to speak for 2 minutes, you must allow a full hour in the agenda

Giving everyone the opportunity to speak is a cherished right in any democratic system.  Doing so at your homeowner meeting may take more time than the short meeting you’d prefer.  But when debate is managed fairly, a long meeting often results in a more satisfying outcome for all participants.

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