Addressing Rising Incivility: Communities Promote the Civility Pledge

Blame it on COVID-19. Blame it on politics or the economy. Blame it on social media. Whatever is to blame, property managers have noted a rising temper at condo and homeowners association meetings this year. Maybe it will calm down in 2021 when a successful vaccine is widely distributed or when the nightly news doesn’t feature protests and riots, but in the meantime, what is a property manager to do to regain civility at the next general meeting?

Community Associations Institute (CAI) has recognized this nationwide trend by attempting to provide guidance to those communities suffering from this issue. CAI has made a commitment to foster a climate of open discussion and debate; mutual respect; and tolerance between members of condos and HOAs. To that end, CAI has offered a Civility Pledge created by the College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL) available on CAI’s website. This pledge’s goal is for condo governance to emphasize listening over prejudging; politeness despite differences in opinion; and focusing on the issue instead of attacking the person. Each interested community is encouraged to introduce these guidelines to its homeowners so the community will take the pledge.

CAI Civility Pledge

In summary the civility pledge requires:

  1. All community individuals to be accountable for their own actions and words.
  2. All community interactions should be civil despite any differences of opinion on a particular issue.
  3. All community members will respect all points of view and will strive to provide a reasonable opportunity for all to express their views openly without attacks and antagonization.
  4. All community members will be engaged and informed.
  5. All community members are encouraged to review CAI’s Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities document.
  6. An acknowledgement that these commitments to civility are vital for a vibrant and thriving community.

For the board and community’s property manager to successfully engage the community and recognize the benefits of this civility pledge adoption, the pledge document should be distributed to the membership with a request for input from the homeowners and a planned schedule of adoption. News of the adoption process should be posted in all community communication media including websites and bulletin boards. Following the formal board and homeowners pledge adoption, the community’s non-binding commitment should be forwarded on CAI’s pledge form.

Successful Meeting Tips

To make this commitment more visible, steps should be taken for the next post-COVID general meeting to be more attractive to all attendees. Use this venue to celebrate the community’s successes by handing out awards; launching new initiatives; and allowing people to get to know one another. If the community’s current meeting space is cramped, splurge by renting a larger space. Provide door prizes such as donated gift certificates to local restaurants or popular stores. Also, announce beverages and food (potluck or bakery goods) will be provided following the meeting. This will not only introduce an element of fun but also ensure a turnout for a quorum and delivery of proxies.

The first step in controlling a meeting is to maintain a system of consistent rules and policies. Having a prepared agenda is key to setting the tone. It establishes a chart to navigate through the presentation of issues, orderly discussions, and framework for the decision process. Educating meeting attendees on how motions are made and seconded, time limits on discussions, and voting rules goes a long way in creating an environment for a successful meeting. A well written policy statement handed out to all attendees is helpful, as people have a harder time arguing with a piece of paper rather than a real person.

If the meeting has tough issues on the agenda, the board should prepare in advance on how best to present the issues to minimize personal animosities and reduce tension. Often a successful strategy includes having the difficult issues presented by a third party and not the board or committee chair. As an example, if a major capital expenditure is to be voted on, have the engineer who prepared the reserve fund budget item explain the rationale behind the need for the project.

This technique can be used to control the condo curmudgeon who tries to disrupt every meeting with negativism and other disruptive tactics to postpone or avoid any decision allowing change or spending of money. I refer to this classic problem as having FUD thrown on the table. FUD: as in Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The goal is to not lose control of the meeting. This requires discipline and training. Condos are not businesses, but they should be run in a business-like manner.

Boards often set up Homeowner Forums of 30 minutes to 1 hour at the beginning or end of a meeting with strict time limits for each speaker. A well-prepared board will have the facts and answers to sweep the FUD off the table by promoting constructive open discussion while efficiently resolving issues. We should all focus on the problems we can control and not the problems we cannot.

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-APCriterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media November 2020 edition
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