Q&A: Transparency at Board Meetings

Q. I am a condo board member and often hear my fellow members say at our meetings “What goes on in here, stays in here.”  How can that be fair to our unit owners? Shouldn’t everything go in the minutes except for names and amounts owed and the like? Transparency is forgotten too often since too many vendettas are ruling the meetings.

                                        —In the Dark

A. “In Las Vegas, people say what happens there stays there,” says attorney Stuart J. Lieberman of the Princeton-based firm Lieberman & Blecher, P.C., “condo boards are not Las Vegas.  If they were, a lot more people would volunteer for them.”

“When a unit owner buys a unit, that owner usually becomes a member of the condominium association  And as a member, he or she has a right to an open government.

“New Jersey state government is subject to laws that require open government; namely the Open Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act – also called the Sunshine Law.  These laws require that government take place in the open.

“While as of right now these laws do not apply to condominiums, the essential concepts do apply. Condo board members have a duty to the community, and they must operate in a fair and open manner.   Minutes of meetings must be taken, voted upon by board members, and made public. Resolutions must be made public, and association budgets and books must be public as well.

“Some issues must be kept private, such as employee issues, negotiations and litigation advice. Collection information also has aspects of privacy – but these are the exceptions. Board meetings should have public components,  with minutes available to members, as well as closed session meetings where confidential issues are discussed. For these closed sessions,  members of the community should be asked to leave.  Board members are free to discuss open parts of the meeting with members of the community.  But they should not disclose what happens in closed sessions.  Care must be taken to educate new board members about these requirements. Separate minutes should be maintained of these portions of the meeting, though these are not available to the community.

“It’s also important to remember that minutes are not verbatim transcripts.  Rather, they are an outline of issues raised,  comments entertained, and issue resolutions.  Minutes are very important, because they preserve official business for later review.   

“The reader is also correct that some boards are too secretive.   Remember, all unit owners are financially and usually emotionally invested  in their communities.  They have a right to full disclosure of the non-confidential information. Transparency is more than legally needed;  it helps avoid problems down the road.   When community members are informed, they trust the board and they will be able to plan for projected expenses,  such as special assessments.  Knowledge is power, and an empowered community will usually be a content community – or at least somewhat content.”

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