Some condominiums or homeowners associations have a “Meet the Candidates Night” to allow owners the chance to learn more about the prospective Board Members that are on the ballot. If your association hosts this kind of event, are you doing everything you can to make sure the event is civil and fair? If your association does not have a Candidates Night and you are thinking about it, perhaps this blog post will help you understand the benefits, the risks and the preparation necessary to make it work. A good Candidates Night is like a good board meeting – it starts and ends on time and everyone is happy in the end. A bad Candidates Night shares some of the same problems as the Presidential election debates in 2016:
- Questions are not answered
- Accusations are made
- Insults are hurled
- Participants complain about the process
This is particularly bad for a Community Associations because it may result in neighbors turning against each other.
A Meet the Candidates night is a risky proposition and shouldn’t be conducted unless you are completely prepared for it. You would be shocked at the behavior of some of the residents at events I’ve moderated and without proper ground rules and a stern moderator it will quickly turn into something that does more harm than good.
If you are going to have a Candidate’s Night, the most important thing to do is to define the rules and process with all the candidates and the members of the crowd in advance:
- The ground rules need to be clearly communicated to all participants (prospective board members and members of the crowd) prior to the start of the meeting. Once the meeting has started it’s very hard to change course.
- Owners that wish to ask a question will be asked to sign in and will ask their questions in the sequence they signed in. They should only be allowed one question then go to the back of the line and sign up for a second question if they have one.
- Owners must ask questions only – this is not an opportunity to make a statement or give an opinion, it’s not open Mic night. The moderator must carefully control this.
- Draw names to determine the order in which the candidates should be seated, this controls the order of opening statements and the order of answers to questions if a question is asked of “all candidates”
- Questions to all candidates will start at the first person and move down the line, the next question with the last candidate and alternate accordingly.
- Set a strict time limit on the length of candidate answers, 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the length of your event and the number of candidates. Use a timer on every question to remove any perception of bias.
- Set a firm end time to the event prior to the event starting. If you haven’t done this in advance it will be very hard to end the event because you will be accused of being biased against whoever the remaining speakers are.
- People who cannot control themselves will be asked to leave
- If the prospective board members or the crowd consistently will not abide by the rules the event will be ended early
One more thing to consider:
Meet the candidate’s night is not a trial, it’s not an inquisition. There is no obligation to answer a question just because it was asked. Often members of the crowd want to ask questions of currently sitting board members as to employee issues, contract negotiations, potential legal issues etc. Some of those questions may be totally inappropriate to be answered in an open forum where the potential for liability exists on the part of the association. Current Board members up for re-election must remember they have a fiduciary responsibility to the community and need to know when it’s appropriate not to answer a question and do so confidently.
If you are going to host a Candidate’s Night at your community, then be prepared for the worst case scenario. Hopefully, it will not work out that way, but the best way to avoid issues is to be well prepared and make sure that everyone understands the rules in advance: owners and candidates.
by Evan Bradley, CFO, Campbell Property Management