A common question from HOA boards is whether it is appropriate or prudent to use committees as a tool in the governance of associations. The answer is: yes, committees can be an excellent resource if they are harnessed appropriately. However, if committees are not organized or do not operate effectively – they can become a waste of time or even a runaway train that can lead to anger and resentment for everyone involved.
Here are some tips that every board should take into consideration when creating and utilizing committees:
- Determine whether the governing documents of your association provide for “standing committees.” References to committees in governing documents will most typically be found in the bylaws and/or declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions in most associations. It is common for the governing documents of many associations to create standing committees such as an architectural review committee or design review committees to address requests by homeowners to make improvements to their homes or lots. Some governing documents also require a budget committee be utilized in financial planning of the association. If the governing documents of your association provide for standing committees, take steps to ensure those committees are organized and function according to the requirements contained in the documents.
- Board appointed committees should be carefully structured to ensure they operate at optimal and efficient levels. A common mistake boards make is the failure to clearly outline the parameters and expectations of committees. This can lead to committees that are out of control or are unable to function effectively because the members of the committees do not have a clear understanding of their roles. Therefore, boards should take the time necessary to draft a clear and concise “committee charter,” which should include the following:
- Purpose of the Committee. The exact purpose of the committee should be outlined in the charter. Is the purpose of the committee to provide the board with a recommendation on an issue? Is the purpose of the committee to carry out a specific task? Whatever the purpose of the committee is – make sure it is spelled out in a clear and understandable manner.
- Timeframe for Committee Action. Be clear about the timeframe of the committee. Is the committee to meet during a period of six weeks or a year? Is the committee a standing committee that will meet until the governing documents are amended or until the board takes action to dissolve the committee?
- Work Product Expected from the Committee. Be clear about what the committee is expected to produce. Is the committee expected to provide a detailed recommendation to the board? If so, what must be included in the recommendation? Is the committee expected to take some sort of action on behalf of the board or association? If so, be very clear about the action the committee is expected to take. Also, it is important to remember that a board of an association is permitted to delegate a duty to act – but cannot delegate responsibility for the action that is ultimately taken by the committee.
- Budget for the Committee. Does the committee have any money to utilize in carrying out the task outlined for the committee? You should be clear about the amount of money the committee has to operate with. You should also be clear about the process the committee should go through to obtain the funds. If the committee is not being provided with funds, you should be upfront with that information.
- Appoint Appropriate Individuals to Serve on Committees. Residents living in associations have a wide array of expertise, talents, and life experiences. An important key to successful committees is to appoint individuals to serve on committees who are able to make valuable contributions to the committees. Do you have landscape architects or gardeners who would be willing to serve on a committee to make recommendations to the board on xeriscaping? Do you have accountants or individuals with a business background who would be willing to serve on a budget committee? Taking time to identify and build relationships with individuals who may ultimately become valued resources – will be time well spent.
- Consider Appointing a Board or Staff Liaison to Committees. Another great tool to keep committees on track is to appoint board or staff members to be liaisons to the committees. This can be a valuable resource in providing background and information committees may need to operate more effectively. However, care should be taken to ensure these individuals do not dominate or take-over the work of committees.
In the world we live in today, association boards have a lot on their plates. By using the tips outlined in this article, boards will be able to effectively harness committees to work in a collaborative environment to benefit their communities.