QUESTION: When setting time limits for open forum, does the board need to create an agenda item and vote? Our board recently instituted a 3-minute rule and said it was a policy and not a rule, therefore no board action was required.
ANSWER: The Davis-Stirling Act states, "A reasonable time limit for all members of the association to speak to the board or before a meeting of the association shall be established by the board." (Civ. Code §4925.) For most associations the three-minute limit is a policy, not a rule. The difference has to due with penalties.
Fines. If the board fines members who violate the speaking limit, then the board adopted a rule not a policy. If so, the proposed rule must first be distributed to the membership for a 28-day review. (Civ. Code §4360(a).) The rule is then adopted by the board in a meeting and recorded in the minutes. If there are no fines attached to the limit, the speaking limit is a policy.
Informal & Fluid. It is not uncommon for the president to adjust time limits from meeting to meeting. If only a few people attend and the board wants a robust discussion on a particular topic, the president can allow members to speak for more than three minutes. If the meeting has a large attendance and everyone wants to speak, the president might limit speakers to two minutes so as to allow as many people as possible to speak.
Reasonable Limits. Time limits set by the board must be reasonable. A 15-second limit is not sufficient for a person to say anything meaningful. A 10-minute limit means the business portion of the meeting might never start. Three minutes per person is fairly standard for associations.
Publishing Guidelines. Guidelines should include a time limit for the open forum itself. Thirty minutes in large associations is common. This sets an upper limit. Obviously, the open forum portion of the meeting will end sooner if only a few people address the board. Additional guidelines should include things such as (i) speakers may not give their time to other people, (ii) no audio or video recording by attendees, (iii) no rude or threatening comments, and (iv) check all weapons with the manager.
Recommendation: Boards should adopt meeting guidelines and print them on each open meeting agenda. This gives attendees notice on how open forums will be conducted.
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