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Real Estate & Property Law: a View from the property line
Put Executive Sessions in their (Proper) Place
By William G. Gammon
Executive Sessions can be used to foster conversation amongst the community association leadership without fear of any reprisal by the non-directors in attendance at a meeting. This confidential aspect to the executive session allows for directors to discuss more sensitive issues before presenting a unified stance to the membership and without infringing on any one individual's privacy rights or giving the appearance that the Board is not acting in unison with its directives.
Executive Sessions can also be improperly deployed, often resulting in the perception that the Board has no accountability to the membership, thereby fueling distrust, dissension, or other anti-Board sentiments by the membership or other non-director association personnel.
So how does the Board avoid these negative distinctions by using the executive session as a positive tool for community governance? Follow these simple guidelines and your Board should reap the benefits of executive sessions while avoiding the pitfalls that improperly-managed executive sessions can engender.
1. Don't overuse the executive session and be judicious. The executive session should be purpose-driven. Focus on the objective or agenda item to be dealt with and do not use this session to isolate or intimidate factional leadership and/or manipulate the results of a vote that the membership should be privy to.
2. Create an environment for sharing ideas. The Executive Session should be used to foster the free exchange of ideas and discussion on sometimes difficult topics. Don't hinder this process with heavy-handed tactics; instead, encourage board members to offer opinions, ideas, experiences and solutions to the issues being dealt with at the executive session.
3. Communicate to the membership. Don't mask the executive session in a shroud of secrecy. Instead, let members know why, when and for what purpose they are being excused from the executive portion of the meeting.
4. Don't hide the vote - take action in meetings, not executive session. Because the Board's actions are memorialized in the meeting's minutes, make sure that formal votes occur in the regular meeting, and not in the executive session.
*thanks to BoardSource, and its white paper, Executive Sessions: How to Use Them Regularly and Wisely, http://www.boardsource.org/Spotlight.asp?ID=14.337, copyright 2006 BoardSource.
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