Robert’s Rules of Order have long been used by many homeowners associations to keep meetings on track. But, what are Robert’s Rules of Order exactly?
What Are Robert’s Rules of Order?
Robert’s Rules of Order is a parliamentary procedure used by many governing bodies today. First published in 1876, the manual was authored by Henry Martyn Robert, a U.S. Army officer. The guide is designed to provide governing bodies with procedural rules for conducting meetings and making collective decisions.
Many homeowners associations use Robert’s Rules as either a guide or the gold standard for conducting their annual or board meetings. It is more common to see Robert’s Rules as a requirement in the governing documents of older associations. Newer ones, on the other hand, typically only use Robert’s Rules as a skeletal framework from which they base their own procedural rules, deferring only to Robert’s Rules when an issue comes up that the bylaws don’t address.
It is also worth noting that the location of an HOA can also play a role in deciding whether or not to adopt Robert’s Rules. Most HOAs in Florida, for instance, use Robert’s Rules of Order as dictated within their governing documents. But, in Massachusetts, a vast majority of associations choose not to adopt Robert’s Rules in a strict manner, using it only as a general guide.
The bottom line is that homeowners associations should follow what’s written in their bylaws. If their bylaws state that meetings should adopt Robert’s Rules, then the board should do so. In the event that an issue arises that neither Robert’s Rules nor the bylaws can resolve, association boards should turn to an HOA lawyer.
The Purpose of Robert’s Rule of Order
Robert’s Rules establish a set of procedures that allow meetings to flow smoothly. These rules require boards to follow a set format for meetings, thereby covering all important topics within a scheduled timeframe. They also keep board meetings short and succinct through the strict adherence to an agenda as well as disallowing people to speak out of turn. Beyond that, Robert’s Rules determine the quorum, majority vote, when discussions should occur, and when votes must take place.
Criticisms Against Robert’s Rules of Orders
While it is clear that Robert’s Rules come with several benefits, they are no stranger to criticisms, too. Some people dislike Robert’s Rules because they only provide an outline from a general point of view. When getting down to the specifics, there is room for interpretation (or misinterpretation). This can create more chaos than order.
Furthermore, there may be instances when Robert’s Rules conflict with state laws and the HOA’s governing documents. For example, the open meeting requirement in Virginia allocates a specified portion of the meeting for homeowners to provide input. But, Robert’s Rules state that homeowners must have the ability to participate during meetings as if they were on the board as well.
What Are Robert’s Rules of Order: Key Terms to Understand
When it comes to Robert’s Rules, there are some key terms that every board member must know about.
- Chair – This refers to the presiding officer of the meeting, the one who conducts the meeting and makes sure it flows smoothly. Typically, this role is fulfilled by the president of the association.
- Floor – When a member “has the floor,” they are given the opportunity to speak without interruption. The chair must first recognize the speaker and give them the floor before they can voice their opinions.
- Order – This refers to discussions that fulfill two conditions: a) discussions where the member was properly recognized by the chair, and b) discussions where the comments are related to the issue at hand. If these two conditions aren’t met, then the discussion or speaker is considered “out of order.”
- Motion – This is made to propose a question, decision, or issue in front of the association’s members for voting or discussion. Without a motion, nothing can happen.
- Second – A second is when another member supports the motion of a different member. Most motions need a second to take place.
- Quorum – This refers to the number of members or homeowners needed to be in attendance for the HOA to conduct business. Without a quorum, the meeting may not proceed and no business can be done. Members can find their quorum requirements in the bylaws of the association.
- Ballot – This is a form of voting made in writing either with the identity of the voter or without (secret ballot).
- Voice Vote – This is a form of voting made either by voice or through the raising of hands. When the chair calls for such a vote, members will typically answer with either a “yes” or a “no.”
A Cheat Sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order
Here are the key provisions of Robert’s Rules that apply to homeowners associations.
1. Meeting Format
For the meeting format, associations must follow the flow listed below:
- Call to order
- Establish a quorum
- Review and approve the minutes of the previous meeting
- New business
- Old business
Most HOAs today use this general format during their board meetings. If the governing documents allow it, boards can also add to this format and include portions of the meeting that may apply uniquely to their association. There are also some states or bylaws that require associations to hold an open forum either at the beginning or at the end of the meeting.
2. Meeting Agenda
The meeting agenda is a list of topics to be discussed or voted on during the meeting. Boards normally need to send the agenda along with the notice of the meeting to the homeowners. Association meetings must strictly follow the agenda, never straying far from the topics listed. If a homeowner brings up a discussion that isn’t on the agenda, the board can table it for discussion at the next meeting. The board would then need to include the topic as part of the next meeting’s agenda.
3. Recognizing Speakers
Both board members and homeowners must wait for the chair to recognize them before they can speak. Prohibiting members from speaking out of turn can significantly improve the flow of the meeting and prevent unnecessary comments. While some associations may get away with excluding this procedural rule, larger associations will definitely need it to maintain control of the meeting.
4. Motions, Seconds, and Voting
When a motion is made (usually by the chair), someone else (usually another board member) must second the motion. Without a second, the motion may not proceed. After securing the second, the discussion can then take place. Side discussions are best left out. Following the close of the discussion, the chair can then call the question, which signals the time for voting.
5. Open Forum
Boards should allocate time to let homeowners speak their minds. This can take place at the start of the meeting or at the end. During the open forum, owners can provide their input without interruption. Board members must carefully listen to the concerns of each owner, though they are not required to address the issue on the spot. The chair should also be mindful not to let owners ramble on, which would prolong the meeting.
What Are Robert’s Rules of Order? Explained!
Homeowners associations, especially younger ones, often find it difficult to keep board meetings under control. Discussions can go on and on with no end in sight, and everyone might speak over one another. Thankfully, with Robert’s Rules of Order for meetings, boards can hold more systematic meetings and get things done more efficiently.
If you’re having trouble keeping meetings brief and productive, an HOA management company like Cedar Management Group can help. Call us today at (877) 252-3327 or contact us online to request a free proposal.
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