One of the things presidents fear most about chairing their annual meetings is when emotional homeowners raise a subject that is not part of the agenda. This action could, if not properly handled, start the spiral that sends a meeting out of control. As the meeting chair, how should you handle that moment when a homeowner brings up something new and controversial? What is the best way to keep the meeting from descending into chaos?
As the chair, first ask yourself two questions:
- is this issue coming up at the right time on the agenda? If so,
- is this issue something the owners can decide?
Assuming the answer to both questions is “yes”, then you should immediately use that very important phrase, “Do I hear a motion?”
Debate on an issue should only take place AFTER a motion – that is, a specific proposal for a decision – has been made and seconded. This technique places a framework on the discussion, which the chair should use to keep speakers focused on the goal of making a decision on the issue, and make sure only one thing at a time is being discussed – that is, ONLY the motion on the floor.
Agendas and motions are basic tools the chair uses to control large meetings like annual homeowner meetings. Use of these tools is one of the main distinctions between chairing a large owner meeting and a much smaller board meeting. That’s because strictly following agendas and using motions is often not necessary and can get in the way of open debate and good decision-making in small board and committee meetings. By contrast, that same formality enables you to effectively chair a large meeting, get homeowner decisions on controversial issues, and accomplish all the important business on the agenda within a reasonable amount of time.
Motions Basics (for large meetings):
- A motion must have a second. Seconds ensure that more than one person actually wants the assembly to make a decision on the issue at this time.
- Only one thing at a time – only the motion on the floor may be discussed. If someone wants to change the motion, then they must make a motion to amend the main motion, which is handled like any other motion. Yes, this takes more time, but it also enables everyone to understand what is being discussed and voted on.
- The chair should moderate, not participate in the debate. Resist the temptation to answer questions. If you know an issue is going to arise, make sure someone is prepared to answer those questions in the audience or at the board table. If you feel you must participate in the debate, ask a neutral person (ideally your vice president) to temporarily take the chair.
- Know your methods of voting and hold a vote (see Meeting Moment – Methods of Voting ).
- Don’t call for a “straw poll”. Straw polls tend to confuse people, and make them think they have actually voted. If it’s not an issue the owners can vote on, then the chair should say to the homeowner who raised the issue initially, “I’m sorry, but the motion is out of order”, and redirect the homeowner to the question and answer portion of the agenda or to the next board or committee meeting when discuss of the issue IS appropriate.
- After the vote is taken, the decision is final (with very few exceptions), and the issue should no longer be debated.