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How to initiate research on a project

Ray Harwood

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I’m new to a 5-member HOA board, joining last October. Custom has allowed previous board members to start research on a (typically small) project at a meeting without a motion.  I’m looking for both a proper and effective means to accomplish this more formally.

[Note: I attended board meetings as a homeowner for over a year prior to becoming a board member.  Board knowledge of and adherence to parliamentary rules was noticeably lacking.]

An example: a board member might say (did say!), "I think the outdoor bulletin board at the park looks weathered beyond repair, and would like us to consider replacing it." After general agreement that the existing item looks horrible, a consensus decision (no motion) is made that the community manager should investigate and obtain bids.  Magically, the item shows up as New Business at the next regular meeting.  Eventually (often after too many intervening meetings with discussions under Unfinished Business and more research) someone does make a motion, "I move that we replace the bulletin board by accepting the proposal from The Bulletin Board People for $800 to come from Operating Funds, Repair & Maintenance." 

I know keeping this under Unfinished Business without a motion is improper.  And on one occasion I moved to refer a "potential project" to committee for further research and recommendation, with some success. But in most cases the other board members want to keep such things under their control and on the agenda, from start to finish.

I’ve struggled to find a good and proper way to add some structure to the numerous projects that continue to be initiated.  (1) Would a motion to "research options for replacing the bulletin board" be appropriate in the early stages, followed at some point by a "motion to substitute" with language to accept a bid? Or better to (2) make a motion related to the final desired outcome, "I move we replace the bulletin board at the park," followed by a request for the community manager to do some specific research, then to postpone the item to the next meeting? I’ve also considered (3) scheduling a Working Session before (or during?) each meeting for informal discussion of potential actions, and assigning a motion to someone once the working session has enough information to take substantive action.

As with many HOAs, community participation is minimal, so most committees are comprised of board members, many of whom seem to consider "committee work" to be an unnecessary adiotional effort "when we can just discuss this stuff at the board meeting".

So, the other board members are fine doing it "the way we’ve always done it." And while it does seem to work for some things, it seems impossible to "kill" a project whose research never reveals an acceptable solution. (The board is still talking about possible solutions to the bulletin board, which started out on the agenda months before I joined the board last October.)

Thanks in advance for both technical and practical solutions.


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I'm not entirely sure I follow the scenario, but my first thought is that a member could just move to replace the bulletin board, and the motion could be referred to committee.  The committee could include all the board members if that's what they want, although I don't think that's a great idea.

Or the original motion could be to appoint a committee to come up with recommendations about the bulletin board.

Or, perhaps better, the member could make a motion to direct staff to investigate the condition of the bulletin board and prepare a report for the board listing options for improvement.

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Your 5 member board can, and should, operate under the relaxed small board rules set forth in RONR (p. 487-488, 11th ed.). What your board has been doing is not that far removed from the procedures outlined in those rules. For example, the small board rules allow a limited amount of discussion without a motion pending. So, in your bulletin board case, a member is free  to note that the bulletin board is in a state of disrepair and perhaps should be replaced, without a motion to that effect. Committees of one are also not uncommon in a board of that size. So, a completely appropriate response from the chair could be "If there is no objection, Mr. X is appointed as a committee of one to explore replacement of the bulletin board "(assuming Mr. X is willing to follow up on his observation). Not every action absolutely requires a formal motion, and, especially in your board's size, conducting business by unanimous consent, where appropriate, will make meetings flow more smoothly.

While the formal rules of RONR are, of course, still available to you, it makes sense to keep things comfortable for your group with the more informal rules allowed by RONR.

As to your specific questions:

1) yes, a motion to refer to committee is appropriate, and as noted can be easily done by unanimous consent. Once you have the committee's recommendation, you don't move to substitute, you just move to do whatever the committee recommends.

2) That scenario is not better. If you want information before deciding, then use the steps in 1) above. No need for postponements.

3) You're certainly free to schedule a working session before or after a meeting to discuss all you want, but motions to take action can only be made within a meeting. Having a 'working session' within a meeting is probably going to cause more confusion and prolong your meetings, perhaps substantially. The small board rules permit a certain amount of discussion without a motion, but not at the expense of conducting further business.

Edited by Bruce Lages
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