Every board member plays an important role. The secretary is no exception and is so much more than just “note taker”. His or her duites are critical to the Association’s overall success. At a minimum, there are five key areas for which the secretary should be responsible.
Giving proper notice – the secretary is responsible for giving proper notice of the board meetings and the member meetings according with the requirements of the governing documents. This means giving the required minimum number of days notice and ensuring that the notice includes all the necessary information. Not just the who, where, and when – but perhaps most importantly the “what”. A good meeting notice will clearly explain to the community what items are being discussed at a particular meeting and their relevence to the homeowner.
Agenda development - the secretary coordinates with the association president to put together the meeting agenda’s content. The secretary should conference with the president prior to finalizing the agenda to identify the agenda items and the time needed for each item. The secretary can provide an additional service to the president by also serving as the time keeper for the meeting. Agenda’s should be distributed prior to the board meeting allowing the board members ample time to review and prepare for discussion. Your governing documents will likely state how many days in advance the agenda must be distributed prior to the board meeting.
Meeting minutes – when you think “secretary” most people think “meeting minutes”. There is a definite skill involved in writing good meeting minutes. They should capture who was at the meeting and the specific decisions that were made. Far too often the association secretary includes too much detail in the minutes – this can come back to haunt you later. To learn more about taking great minutes read: HOA Minutes.
Record keeping – the association’s records must be kept somewhere and they are stored under the supervision of the secretary. Boxes of old records don’t have to be housed in the home of the secretary, in fact it is preferable to keep them in a more public location if possible – but they should be accessible. Association records must be made available for inspection by homeowners upon request. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want people coming into my home to view boxes of records. For this reason, the association may wish to consider investing resources in scanning old paper files into electronic documents; making it much easier to provide records to the homeowners to request them.
Community communication – The old addage “no news is good news” simply does not hold true for homeowners associations. Whether it is a website, newsletter or some other method of communication – keeping the community apprised of happenings is very important. Determining the best communication tool will depend on your community’s demographics. If the association does not keep the community up to date on how assessments are being spent (improvements, repairs, etc.), owners will begin to assume that the association is doing nothing at all. Let them know what the association is doing on their behalf!
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Serving in the role of HOA president is not an easy job. It is one that demands leadership and exemplary skills in presiding over meetings. Many HOA’s are registered as non-profit corporations and in turn, the president can be thought of as the CEO of the corporation, (serving of course in a voluntary capacity without pay). Perhaps more importantly, he or she is elected by the membership to serve the community and elected by the board to lead the board through challenging situations and decisions.
Many mistakenly believe that it is the president’s role to take the lead and make the tough decisions. I would suggest that it is their role to help guide the board’s discussion process so that the board can make the difficult decisions. A good president will follow the agenda and keep the board meetings running on time and efficiently. A GREAT president will do all of the above, plus ensure that every board member has a voice at the table. Drawing out the thoughts and insights of quieter board members and ensuring their thoughts are “heard” over those of the outspoken board members. Parliamentary procedure, when followed, can aid the president in successfully presiding over a meeting where important matters are introduced, discussed and decided upon.
It is also the president’s role to propose the agenda for the board meeting. He/she will do so based on unfinished business carried over from previous meetings and from new issues that have arisen since the last board meeting. The president may call for agenda items several weeks prior to the meeting and then pare the submitted items down to critical meeting business. While the secretary is responsible for creating and giving proper notice of board meetings, it is the president’s role to ensure that critical issues find their way to the agenda.
Delegation is also critical. Everyone seems over-committed these days and finding people to step-up and volunteer can be next to impossible. A great leader has the knack for asking others to take on a specific task or responsibility.
Lastly, the president must also chair the annual meeting of the membership. This can be much more challenging than the board meetings based simply on the sheer number of attendees. He or she must find the delicate balance of allowing the membership to speak out on issues at the appropriate times. Again ensuring that the most vocal members do not “run down the clock” leaving no time for others to be heard.
There are many natural-born leaders, but most folks arent’ born with all the skills needed to effectively serve as president. It takes practice, time and effort to develop them. Don’t be discouraged if every meeting isn’t stellar… do the best you can and keep working on developing your leadership style. The end result will be rewarding.
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I have been asked twice in the past week for sample job descriptions for HOA Officers. The requests prompted a quick search of my personal files and a cursory review of the many books on my office shelf – both were unproductive. An internet search produced one brief, but well-intentioned article that lacked substance. As a result, I will post qualifications/job descriptions for officers on this blog over the coming weeks.
Before doing so, I think it is important to explain the difference between officers and board members as the two are often confused.
- Board members are elected by the general membership (homeowners) at the annual meeting.
- Officers are elected by the board.
Number - The number of board members required for your Association should be clearly enumerated in the bylaws. Example: “there shall be no more than five directors, and no less than three directors”. It is important that you do not exceed the maximum number of board members as stated in the bylaws (more is not necessarily better), nor should you fall short of the minimum number required.
Terms - how long does a board member serve? Often terms are staggered and are two or three years in length. This prevents all the board members terms from ending at the same time and allows for overlap and sharing of institutional knowledge between the new and the more tenured board members.
Election Process - The bylaws also typically spell out the election procedures. They should outline the following:
- Nominations process – is a committee required?
- Notice – how many days in advance must the membership receive all the election/meeting information?
- Quorum – how many members must vote in the election?
- How the election can be held (ballot, proxy, etc.)
Officers - Once the board has been elected by the members, the board then needs to elect its officers. Typically this is done at the first board meeting following the annual meeting. Associations are required to have at least the following three positions: President, Secretary and Treasurer. Some bylaws will allow you to combine the Secretary and Treasurer position. The officer’s terms are always limited to one year’s length.
So an individual may be elected to a three-year term as a board member, but may or may not serve as an officer of the board during their term. Regardless of the length of their board term, their officer term is always one-year’s duration. Here are several examples:
- Smokey Point Association has five board positions, but only three officer positions. Therefore, two board members are not officers, but members at large or possibly committee chairs. All positions are important even if you do not have the extra responsibility of being an officer of the board.
- Horizon Ridge has three board positions and three officer positions. Therefore, each board member also serves as an officer.
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