Homeowner association can hold candidate forums

Q: Are there any restrictions on the right of members of a homeowners association to assemble in order for candidates for the board to present their opinions? FS720.30 provides for owners to peaceably assemble. The General Rules and Regulations of the association do not include any restrictions on the use of the facilities and common areas by residents.

B.C., Hudson

A: A meeting may be called by the members or the board of directors for the candidates to present their ideas and/or answer questions. There is no formal agenda or procedure for such a meeting. It would not be considered a board meeting or a members’ meeting, and therefore would not require that minutes be taken.

I do suggest that an informal agenda be created, perhaps allowing each candidate to present their positions and setting a time limit on their presentations. Then the floor should be open for questions. I would suggest that the questions not be directed to one candidate but all the candidates.

Try to keep the meeting’s total time around 60 to 90 minutes. This would mean that the first section should not exceed 30 minutes and the Q&A between 30 and 60 minutes. It would be advisable to have a moderator who has no preference for one candidate over another.

Q: Our new board is doing great and our meetings are a lot more open. In fact, our board has asked that all HOA board committees be open also, except for legal and personnel discussions.

I understand personnel problems or discussions of conduct or performance should be private for committee meetings, but if we are discussing salaries and duties I don’t think that falls under personnel. We recently had a chairperson ask visitors to leave as we were discussing salaries and contracts. I said nothing because I was not sure, but in my opinion how much we pay someone, what the contracts are for and what is done should be accessible to those who pay for the contracts.

The question is for when HOA board committees meet where we have only one and sometimes none of the directors present. Can you give some general feedback of what areas of personnel matters would be grounds to close a meeting regardless of committee or board?

R.C., Tampa

A: I would start with employee confidentiality. This could include discipline problems, salary increases, hiring and firing, and even promotions. But here’s the issue: Such a committee should not be able to make final decisions, but rather to refer suggestions back to the board.

The committee that you described seems to be making final employee decisions. Unless it is authorized to do so by the board, this is improper.

Q: I live in a manufactured-home, gated community where all homeowners must be at least 55 years old. The HOA has put a bylaw on the ballot of an upcoming election that would restrict seasonal residents, who are members in good standing of the HOA, from holding the offices of president, secretary, vice president or treasurer. Is this legal? Is this also discrimination against the seasonal residents?

W.P., Vero Beach

A: Anytime you modify the bylaws, the board should consult an attorney for guidance on proper wording and voting procedures. Association statutes do not address nonresidency as a limit to serving on the board, so if the bylaws have residency as a requirement, it would be proper. But if an attorney has not reviewed the recommended changes, I would urge that the amendment not be approved until one does.

I can only guess why the board feels that snowbirds should be restricted, but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. With today’s communications, a director or officer who is out of town can still attend the meeting, be counted as present and conduct business using electronic means such as a speakerphone.