Open forum requirements for associations apply to open (non-executive session) board meetings (Civ. Code § 4925) and membership meetings (Civ. Code § 5000(b)) whether conducted in-person or virtually. It means time must be set aside for members to speak on any issue, whether on the agenda or not. (Civ. Code § 4930(a).)
Membership Meetings. For most associations, membership meetings normally occur once a year for the purpose of electing directors to the board (annual meetings). Other instances that occur less frequently include meetings to vote on amendments to the governing documents, approving special assessments, and recall elections. In each case, time must be set aside for members to speak either before or after the business portion of the meeting occurs.
Board Meetings. By statute, members can observe the board conduct business. In addition, they can address the board during the open forum portion of the meeting. This is the same policy followed by municipalities at city council meetings. See Chapter 2, paragraphs 7 and 11 of the "Rules of the Los Angeles City Council" regarding their public comment period.
Inviting Comments. Although members do not have a legal right to participate in board discussions, the president can invite comments from the audience on particular items of business if he so chooses. This is at the discretion of the board. Once comments have been received, discussion can be closed and a vote taken by the directors (or the matter tabled).
Placement on Agenda. There is no prescribed point in the course of a meeting for hold open forum. Some boards put it at the beginning and some at the end of the meeting's agenda.
Time Allocation. The Davis-Stirling Act requires that a reasonable amount of time be set aside by the board for the open forum. Members can ask questions but directors are limited in how they can answer them.
Open Forum Topics. The Open Meeting Act allows the board to establish reasonable time limits but there is no limit on the number of topics members can raise. (Civ. Code § 4930(a).) Boards cannot create unreasonable rules that would stifle a member's right to address the board. Boards can, however, place reasonable restrictions on some topics. For example, personnel issues should be addressed privately with the board or in writing to the board, not publicly. For example, topics should not:
- involve a matters outside the board's authority,
- be defamatory, indecent, abusive, or involve personal attacks or threats, legal or otherwise,
- involve personnel issues,
- involve the disclosure of confidential information,
- maintenance issues can be raised during open forum but are often better addressed in writing with the management company.
If the board has a lengthy agenda, it may ask members to limit their comments to agenda items only so everyone has an opportunity to speak to those issues before the board addresses them.
Answering Questions. Boards are restricted by statute in the answering of questions.
Disruptive Behavior. Members do not have unlimited free speech rights. The right to address the board does not give members the right to shout, use profanity or make obscene or threatening remarks. Members who engage in such behavior may be ejected from the meeting. Directors should not attempt to physically remove a member who refuses to leave. Instead, the police may be called to escort the person out of the meeting or, in lieu of calling the police, the meeting may be adjourned to another location without the disruptive person. In addition, the disruptive person may be fined for their behavior if there are rules against such conduct. Following are sample meeting rules:
MEETING RULES: No audio or video recording allowed by attendees. However, the Secretary may record the meeting to aid in the preparation of minutes. The recording is deleted once the minutes have been prepared. As provided in the "Open Meeting Act," members may observe the meeting but do not have the right to participate in the Board's deliberations or votes. Members may address issues during the Open Forum portion of the meeting. Attendees may not engage in obscene gestures, shouting, profanity or other disruptive behavior. If attendees become disruptive, they may be expelled from the meeting and fined.
To ensure everyone is aware of the rules, boards should print them on each meeting's agenda. See sample agenda.
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