Robert’s Rules: A Basic Guide for All HOA Board Members

Have you ever attended an HOA meeting that didn’t seem to achieve the predetermined goals presented on the agenda? There’s nothing more frustrating than a board meeting that didn’t go so well! When any amount of people get together to discuss important business, there are bound to be differing opinions or some difficulty staying on task. That is why it’s important to implement Robert’s Rules of Order for your HOA meetings!

In fact, some associations require that Robert’s Rules be implemented, as stated in their governing documents.

The History of Robert’s Rules

Meant to provide governing bodies procedural rules to run meetings in an orderly fashion, Robert’s Rules of Order have been in use for over a century, and they can be an invaluable tool for conducting official HOA business.

Written by Civil War veteran General Henry Robert in 1876, and having stood the test of time, Robert’s Rules of Order is a popular book on parliamentary procedures that lays out the basic principles that all groups can use to streamline the decision-making process. As a board member, you have multiple obligations and roles to fulfill, and by implementing Robert’s Rules, you can increase efficiency when it comes to your HOA meetings while also maintaining equity and fairness for all members.

Why Use Robert’s Rules?

Parliamentary procedure enables members to conduct business in an efficient and orderly manner. By addressing one item at a time in a procedural manner, the board is able to act with impartiality and justice while promoting a courteous environment. Robert’s Rules ensure the rule of majority and protects the rights of absent and minority members. Think of it as democracy in action!

Basic Principles of Parliamentary Procedure

There are four basic principles that are adhered to when using parliamentary procedure. To save you the time of reading entire books written on the subject, we’ll break it down here:

  1. Discussions are directed and facilitated. It may feel a bit foreign to apply rules to a discussion, but it’s important to limit member-to-member talk and address all statement to the assigned chair. By electing one individual to maintain order during meetings, the board can ensure that responsibility is taken for creating equality, justice, and impartiality in meetings. A group facilitator ensures that there is one person in charge of motions and that they are handled in an efficient and concise manner.
  2. Discussions are democratized. You’ve likely heard the age-old expression, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Well, not so much when you’re abiding by parliamentary procedure! When members are passionate about a subject, others may feel intimidated or unheard. By implementing Robert’s Rules of Order, you can ensure that all members are heard equally. Rules such as not allowing members to speak twice about a motion until/unless all members have had the opportunity to speak ensures that everyone in attendance has been heard and their concerns or opinions taken seriously.
  3. Consensus moves the community forward. If your community is facing a problem and there seems to be no solution in sight, or perhaps too many options and one can’t be decided upon, then Robert’s Rules can provide the tools needed for HOA boards to reach solutions on complex issues by tackling problems in a hierarchal manner.
  4. Majority vote rules. Let’s face it – there may times when votes simply don’t go the way you’d hoped. Adopting parliamentary procedure does not guarantee that votes go the way you, or the board, wanted. However, it does protect the rights of individuals, absent members, and minorities. Because parliamentary rules are designed to enforce courtesy and fairness among members, everyone gets the opportunity to vote in the manner they feel best, and this leads to the majority vote being the decision-maker.

Do We Have to Use Robert’s Rules?

When it doesn’t always make sense to implement every rule outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order, by taking the time to learn about parliamentary procedures can save you and your fellow board members time and frustration by ensuring that the process of governing your HOA remains democratic for all stakeholders. As with everything, there are pros and cons to be considered when implementing Robert’s Rules of Order. Let’s start with the two cons:

Cons

In some instances, Robert’s Rules may be in conflict with state laws that govern associations. Many states have sunshine laws that govern public access to governmental records (these laws are often referred to as open records laws, or public records laws). For example, Texas is an open records state. According to Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, a homeowner has the right to access records, although some exceptions may apply regarding the disclosure of certain information. In Arizona, the Public Records Law mandates that all public records are open to inspection to any person requesting this information during normal business hours. Of course, these laws may vary from state to state. If you’re interested in your state’s sunshine laws, visit BallotPedia for an interactive map.

Also, Robert’s Rules may create confusion among members if a problem arises over correct procedure when board members abstain from the voting process. Typically, this happens when there is a question of whether the director’s vote counts. (In cases such as this, it’s necessary to refer to the association’s legal counsel.)

Pros

However, Robert’s Rules can be used as a resource tool to help solve the problem. If an issue comes to light regarding your HOA’s governing documents, the board can refer to Robert’s Rules for guidance.

An obvious plus regarding Robert’s Rules is that they can be tailored to fit the needs of your association. Typically, most associations follow some rule of guidance provided by Robert’s Rules and this helps them run annual or board meetings more efficiently and effectively.

Robert’s Rules promotes and ensures a fair democratic process. As stated above, the board can ensure that every member has an opportunity to be heard and that their vote counts.

In certain associations, strict adherence to Robert’s Rules in HOA board meetings can sometimes be as troublesome as it is helpful. Depending on your state laws and your association’s governing documents, your HOA board may be free to use a more flexible approach to meeting procedures.

How to Use Robert’s Rules in Your HOA

When your association has adopted Robert’s Rules of Order, it can be an invaluable tool for conducting official HOA business in most circumstances.

Meetings
By using Robert’s Rules, the board has a general format for how to conduct association meetings. For example, the call to order, quorum confirmation, review of prior meeting minutes, new and old business, and adjournment procedures originate from the guidelines set forth in Robert’s Rules of Order.

Agendas
The importance of creating a meeting agenda and sticking to it cannot be overstressed. There should always be an agenda presented prior to any meeting. The agenda will list items and give time parameters for those items to be discussed. By sticking to the time allotted on the agenda and not veering off onto other topics, the board can efficiently run association meetings.

Handling Speakers
Those in attendance at a meeting should never speak out of order. The chairperson should recognize the speaker, thus giving them permission to speak. In smaller meetings, there may not be a need for a chairperson to call turns, but in unruly or larger groups, the chairperson may need to do so in order to maintain control and keep the meeting moving forward.

Before concluding the meeting, the board must give members the opportunity to offer input, but the chair can announce that the board is moving on, recognize another speaker, or decide to close the discussion to keep the meeting on track.

How to Motion
Motions are made by the chair. Any motion made is then followed by a second from a board member. This is often followed by discussion. Once discussion has occurred, the board chair will announce a call to question, meaning the board will take a vote.

While there are various systems of parliamentary procedure in place today, Robert’s Rules of Order is the most common one utilized by homeowners’ associations throughout America. By implementing Robert’s Rules of Order and adhering to parliamentary procedure, you can ensure that your HOA operates in overall harmony and promotes unity among members. To learn more about how you can improve as a board member, be sure to check out our online HOA board member training course

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