During my 18-years as a co-op and condo attorney in New York, I have probably attended close to 200 annual meetings that have ranged from amiable gatherings of neighbors and friends to virtual lynch mobs threatening board members—and in one instance—me with physical violence!
While the vast majority of annual meetings I attend are orderly affairs, one never knows what darker forces may lurk. Indeed, some of the most challenging meetings I have attended were predicted to be uneventful.
Although surprises can always occur, there are certain steps that can be taken to help ensure that your annual meeting will be a success.
- DON’T try to cram 50-100 people into the equivalent of a telephone booth—or the lobby. I’m not a big fan of holding an annual meeting in a lobby. People who aren’t attending the meeting are wandering in and out, and invariably it’s either too hot or too cold. Residents will get uncomfortable and ornery. A better solution is to rent out space elsewhere; more than half of the meetings I attend are in a church synagogue or school which are rented annual meetings and similar type events for a nominal fee.
- DO disclose bad news in advance. Generally speaking, the number one criticism of boards is that they don’t communicate enough with owners—and the annual meeting should never be the first time people hear bad (or good) news. So if your Local Law 11 inspection was a disaster and will require façade work and a sidewalk bridge outside of your building for a year that no one is going to be happy about, get the news out ahead of time through an informational meeting or other form of communication. At the annual meeting, make sure your engineer (or whichever professional is relevant to the problem at hand) is there to explain what’s happening and why.
- DON’T let the meeting get highjacked Explain at the very beginning of the meeting that there will be a question and answer period at the end of the meeting, and remind people to be respectful. When interruptions occur (and they will), remind people again. Of course, some residents will come in “ready to pounce”. Don’t take the bait. Maintain your cool and keep everything professional. Doing this will help keep the support of the rest of the room—even if there are some people in attendance who may not see eye to eye with you. Something like, “I respect your right to express your concerns and you will be able to do so later in the meeting. However, You have an agenda that we’re going to stick to. You can express disagreements during the question and answer period.”
- DO consider bringing reinforcements If you’re a board president and believe you may be a lightning rod for disagreement, consider asking the property manager or your building’s attorney to run the meeting. (For appearances sake, if you’re running for re-election, you should definitely have the attorney or managing agent run the election part of the meeting.)
- DO keep it short and streamlined Absent an unusually long agenda, or some special topic that needs to be addressed, the annual meeting should not last for more than 90 minutes. After the call to order and initial procedural steps (showing proof of notice, confirming the existence of a quorum, etc.), the first half hour of the meeting should consist of the giving of management, financial and officer reports (30 minutes), followed by nominations for Directors/Members, brief speeches by candidates, Q&A of candidates and voting (30 minutes), and general Q&A (30 minutes).
- Do Prepare An unprepared Board is a sitting duck for attack and criticism. Make sure the sign in process is orderly (i.e., that your managing agent has the allocations of shares or common interest with them and that the sign in desk is adequately staffed). Have ballots prepared ahead of time; reports should be prepared before the meeting and you should have the most up to date information on any pending issues/projects. Send out financial statements in advance of the meeting, so owners have an opportunity to review them ahead of time. Consult with your professionals prior to the meeting and let them know if there is anything that you anticipate coming up in their particular
Robert Braverman, Esq., is the managing partner of Braverman & Associates, specializing in the representation of New York City co-op and condominium boards. Read more of his legal advice in The Board Room.