By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM / Published March 2019
The word “trigger” could take some people back in time to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, their horses Trigger and Buttermilk, and their faithful canine, Bullet! However, in this case, the word “trigger” means the words, phrases, or actions that cause negative emotional reactions that can tear down a board meeting, membership meeting, or a business or personal relationship.
Picture a board meeting with seven board members seated panel-style, facing the owners who are attending. The chairwoman, Colleen, is seated in the middle of the long table. She is a feisty little thing with a big chip on her shoulder, and she has a gavel in her right hand. Bill, her self-appointed nemesis, is seated on the far-right end. Heather believes she is Colleen’s best friend and is seated at the far-left end. Don finds himself seated right next to Colleen.
Colleen calls the meeting to order with a loud rap of the gavel. She moves right to the third agenda item—sinkholes and special assessments—totally ignoring the first two items of business. Bill starts a loud objection at his end of the table, Colleen ignores him, and Heather hasn’t heard the commotion yet and is still smiling.
The membership has come primed with objections and questions. They jump in and start yelling from their seats, and it seems each owner has one of the board members as a target. Personal insults are being slung. With the panel-style seating arrangement of the board, they do make easy targets.
For Colleen, being told she is wrong are words that trigger defiance, and it is a very strong defiance. So much so, she has now lost the ability to be logical. She is running on pure emotion—anger!
For Don, the anger sitting next to him and that in the audience triggers fear. If he could, he would run and hide, but he can’t. So, he melts into the chair and doesn’t make eye contact with anyone in the audience. In three days, he will think of something he should have said or done.
For Bill, he can’t stand people who don’t do things correctly, and the only correct course of action is his. The fact the meeting is not even four minutes old and is already out of control triggers legalism. He starts quoting the documents, the statutes, and Robert’s Rules of Order.
For Heather, she has now realized what is going on and catches a nasty verbal zinger from an owner in the audience. She can’t believe that she, of all people, has been personally attacked, and Colleen has not tried to defend her. For Heather, this will trigger outbursts of sarcasm.
Is there something these board members could have done to avoid being targets and exposing their triggers?
First, association presidents must keep in mind that they chair two different groups with two different types of meetings that have different expectations. The room arrangement and expectations at a board meeting are different than for a membership meeting.
A board meeting is for the board, not for the owners. Board members should sit in a horseshoe or at a round table facing each other. They should not be sitting panel-style as if they are speaking to an audience. They should be speaking to themselves eyeball to eyeball. Board members should sit so they are able to see each other, and the president is able to see everyone at a quick glance. With this type seating arrangement, if owners get out of control, it is possible for board members to “hunker down” and continue their business.
Owners have the statutory right to attend all meetings of the board and to speak on any matter placed on the agenda. The right to speak on an agenda item is subject to reasonable rules adopted by the board. Owners who wish to attend should be seated close by. Owners wishing to make comments to agenda items should stand and approach the board table and make their comments directly to the board. Board members should not respond unless directed to do so by the president. Board members should remember this opportunity is for owners’ “comments”; it’s not a discussion. Owners’ comments are never recorded in the minutes.
The board of directors manages the business, governmental, and community affairs of the association. Maintenance and violations issues that cannot be resolved by management will be brought to the board for a decision. The board will vote on contracts and spending unbudgeted funds. The board will review bids and plan for deferred maintenance and capital replacements. The board will vote on an annual budget, review insurance policies and claims, and address other issues brought to its attention by the manager.
The statutes that allow the membership to attend board meetings are loosely called the “Open Meeting Laws” and should not be confused with the Governance under the Florida Sunshine Laws, which apply to government elected and appointed officials. Though our “Open Meeting Laws” have a similar effect, our association board meetings are not subject to the Florida Sunshine Laws.
The board has no official role at a membership meeting. Board members should be seated in the audience. If they have reports to give, they should go to the lectern, present their reports, and return to their seats. The president will chair the meeting; the secretary or manager may want to be seated nearby to record the minutes. In addition to the elections, owners might vote on amendments to the documents, vote to raise or lower the financial reporting requirement, or vote to waive or reduce reserves; and they will likely vote on the IRS Section 277 Election (Association Resolution for Revenue Ruling 70-604 Election) to apply excess income to the following year’s assessment.
It is challenging on an ordinary day to monitor the situations that trigger our negative emotional responses. There is no need to set yourself up to be a target. Just change the room arrangement.
Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM
Florida CAM Schools