Conflict within Meetings and Organizations

Answers to questions submitted to Cagle's Parliamentary Procedure webpage.

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Order in a Board of Directors Meeting

I don't know if you can help, but I have a dilemma as the president of the Board of Directors for a homeowners association. The problem is keeping everyone from being out of order and controlling our meetings.

I am a fairly soft-spoken (lady) who is not the type to bang on the table and out-shout these people who feel extremely slighted as they sit in the "audience" supposedly "observing" the director's monthly meetings.

I have stated over and over again that they are more than welcome to be there and that we would be more than happy to hear from them, address any and all issues they want to discuss, but they must be placed on the agenda prior to a meeting - not just chime in in the midst of a committee report or board discussions. Nevertheless, they do just that, chime in, grunt, groan, pashaw, or sit there with their hand up waiting to be called upon. I have stated over and over again that we can't call on them unless they are on the agenda - that this is a DIRECTOR'S meeting. (The annual membership meeting is in June), all to no avail, falling on deaf ears.

What a nightmare getting on this board. I know I was chosen because of my wonderful ability to get along with people :-) and I am very nice in nature (too nice); this is a community which has a problem with certain individuals who seem to have no life other than trying to make others' miserable. This is a shame, but the problem exists and by the end of each meeting my stomach is in knots. (Why do there have to be people such as this to spoil everything!!) Yes, perhaps I am not cut out for this, however I have saved the community thousands of dollars, made a significant contribution to the smooth and organized running of things - all with the exception of these dreaded meetings when these ya-hoos show up only to grieve us and complain for, god knows, what reasons.

Can you help? - shall I read from Robert's Rules of Order at the very beginning of the next meeting regarding the fact that they need to be quiet? (if I can find such verbiage). Shall I ask them if they have anything they are just dying to say before we start the meeting? What would you suggest?

I admit I am fairly new to all of this. I do sincerely thank you for any insights you might lend. I anxiously await your reply!

Well, you do have a problem.

On the one hand, the people at the meeting you're concerned about are probably members of the homeowners' association, may have friends they could form coalitions with to make life even worse, could get angry and get a lawyer to file a lawsuit (which they couldn't necessarily win, but would cause you trouble and inconvenience and possibly money if only to get a lawyer to defend yourself). These conciderations argue for tact and diplomacy in handling them.

On the other hand, there are a few principles of parliamentary law and procedures that can be helpful.

Only the members of the Board of Directors have a "right" to speak. Generally you would be on secure ground to tell someone they are welcome as a guest to observe the meeting, but that they will be told to leave if they improperly disrupt the meeting. That is a clear principle, unless your organization says otherwise in its bylaws, or state codes give members a right to speak at their boards.

After warning someone they are indecorous and disrupting the meeting and that they will be asked to leave upon further behavior, a chair can order someone to leave the meeting, even a member of the Board of Directors itself. Depending somewhat on the laws of a state and/or city ordinances, the police or sheriff's office can be called to report disorderly conduct, etc. Some organizations have a sergeant-at-arms or a security guard. The courts have upheld an organizations right to do so, even in the case where the guard has hurt someone in evicting them from the meeting. (The standards of not using excessive force are serious and germane.) I would advise evicting someone only as a last resort and only when the disruption is serious.

Another principle is that the agenda is important and defines what and when things may be talked about. The person (or people) who call the meeting and issue the agenda have a right to enforce it. For example, if a group of people in a neighborhood invite everyone in the neighborhood to help plan an effort to put speed bumps on their street, the meeting is "for" speedbumps and to develop a plan. No one in the neighborhood can insist on even debating the merits of the need for the plan, because the invitation made it clear that the meeting was to develop a plan to get the city to put in the speed bumps. In such meetings, people disrupting the purpose of the meeting may be evicted.

If you have a real problem, there is no simple and obvious solution. You have to use your personality, use "supportive communication style," and seek allies to try to influence the people you've been concerned about. For example, you could ask someone who is popular in the organization and also a persuasive speaker to raise a point of order about the disruptions; sometimes a forceful speech by another member can quiet people down. (It doesn't always work out that way, however.)

A final suggestion: One way to deal with such disruption is not to eliminate it but to re-direct it. For example, the Board could put an item on the agenda to hear complaints and concerns from members not on the Board. With that, you may be able to ask people to wait until that portion of the meeting.

I hope these comments are helpful. You may need to get a local parliamentarian (if you can find a good one) or a lawyer to help you before and at the meeting.

Good luck. I hope my comments are helpful.

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