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Lowering the Temperature at the Annual Meeting

Many co-ops and condos have trouble getting a quorum at their annual meeting to elect a new board.

That is true.

But sometimes there’s so much interest, so much passion, so much anger that the situation becomes volatile. What do you, as a manager, do in such cases?

One of the first things we look at is the location where the meeting is to be held. In some buildings, a meet-ing room doesn’t really exist, so the annual meeting is held in the lobby or the laundry room, which are truly inadequate spaces, especially when the meeting is highly attended and the temperature is hot and the passions are hot as well. What we try to do is to defuse the situation by moving the meeting to some sort of hall. We particularly like religious institutions, a church or a synagogue.

Why is that?

Despite the fact that religion is not high on a lot of individuals’ lists today, people still do show respect when they go into a house of worship. Especially during heated and passionate annual meetings, they tend to behave themselves. It brings down the temperature quite a bit.

They check their devilishness at the door, so to speak?

Absolutely. It really does work.

So now you’ve got a good venue. How do you keep the conversation on track?

One of the things that we’ve always done is to afford everybody the opportunity to speak. If you cut people off, you’re headed for a massive disaster. You need to give everybody a certain amount of rope, within the bounds of civility, and keep it from becoming too heated. You need to remind them where they are and what they’re doing.

Do you set a limit on how long share-holders or unit-owners can talk?

If necessary. If people are running over five minutes, we remind them that we don’t want to be there all night. In the end, the most important thing is letting them say their piece and then moving on to the vote.

What do you do when these speeches become personal?

At the beginning of the session when the floor is open, we remind people to keep it to buildingwide issues – not to individual issues, and especially not to issues within an apartment that need to be addressed. We tell them, as the management company, that we’re going to remain after the meeting. Come talk to us, and we’ll deal with your situation right there.

Do you release the voting results on the night of the annual meeting?

I’d say 99 percent of the time we do – because transparency is another key to defusing the situation. Most bylaws require that there be inspec-tors. Generally, it’s two appointed by the president. We’re happy if more people watch us do the count. What we do, generally, is one person reads the votes and the other inputs the data onto a spreadsheet. It moves very quickly. We’re generally done in 15, 20 minutes.

How does the evening end?

The evening ends with the new board stepping forward, congratulat-ing them. I’d say 50 percent of the time, the new board wants to have a quick board meeting afterwards to appoint officers. That’s a board deci-sion. We make ourselves available, and anybody can come and talk to us about their personal issues. Most of the time it’s simply a matter of getting the manager in and investigat-ing what’s going on. Sometimes we explain to them: “That’s not a co-op issue. That’s an individual issue, and you’ve got to deal with it on your own.” Some people don’t know the difference. Most of the time, people go home happy.

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