Often some of the most challenging questions a chair must handle during an annual meeting come from members of the “opposition” who don’t believe the board is being fair to them, and who are afraid their rights will be violated by something that happens at a meeting. When owners take this type of concern to an extreme, they may appear to be conspiracy theorists, convinced that the board and manager are conspiring to deprive them of their rights.
For example, these are the people who don’t trust the manager to accurately sign in members on the roster; who are afraid their proxies will be disallowed; and who don’t believe that votes will be counted fairly. Usually, members with these kinds of questions simply are not aware of how basic parliamentary procedure can safeguard their rights.
How can you respond to questions about the fairness of basic procedure without allowing owners with these concerns to bring your meeting to a standstill by questioning the fairness of every action?
Use neutrals. Also, take the time to educate owners about how using neutrals protects their rights.
The bedrock goal of parliamentary procedure is to make sure the will of the majority prevails while protecting the rights of the minority to be heard, participate, and vote. Using people who are neutral – that is, not clearly allied with either the board, the community manager, or an opposition faction – to handle, monitor or review critical or sensitive parts of the meeting process is a simple and transparent way to achieve both of those goals.
Roles that neutrals can fill during an owners’ meeting include :
- Registrar, to sign in all members and proxies and establish a quorum
- Chair, for all or part of a meeting
- Timekeeper, to time everyone who speaks (even the Board, if necessary)
- Speech coordinator, to sign up everyone who wants to speak and to collect written motions and give them to the secretary or chair
- Election proctor, to distribute ballots and log in ballots received
- Teller, to count the votes [neutral tellers are REQUIRED by CCIOA sec. 38-33.3-310 (1)(b)(I)(C)]
- Election monitor, to watch the election process and the tellers as they count the votes
- Recording secretary, to take notes on actions taken during the meeting so as to assist the secretary or minutes review committee later with a neutral set of notes
- Sergeant at arms, to encourage owners to behave in a civil manner, or to leave the room
- Parliamentarian, to assist the chair with procedural and practical questions about running the meeting
Depending on how sensitive the conspiracy theorists are, and the type of issues they are concerned about, it may be best to appoint – or elect — a committee of three neutrals per role for some roles (such as registrar, speech coordinator, election proctor, monitor, teller). In a small community, one committee of three neutrals could fill several of these roles.
Qualifications for neutrals: they must not be on the board, running for election to the board, or holding multiple proxies; or related to or living with someone doing any of those things. To be effective, neutrals should not be strong supporters of any “side”. Therefore, ideally members who have or intend to strongly advocate for any person or issue should not be nominated or appointed as neutrals. For large associations with complex issues, neutrals may be hired. For example, members of an accounting firm may be hired to act as tellers.