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What happens at the first in-person meeting after the pandemic?
AUTHORRobert Ferrara, President & CEO, Ferrara Management Group
Many co-ops and condos are finally beginning to reopen from the pandemic. A co-op in New Rochelle has gone back to a very pre-pandemic tradition.
It was pretty amazing. The people in this 60-unit co-op wanted to get back together, so the board decided to try to hold an in-person annual meeting. It ended up being very successful.
Did they have a virtual annual meeting during the peak of the pandemic in 2020?
Yes, and their board meetings were virtual, but the board president and the other board members really wanted to get that community feel back. They had an area outside where they were able to hold the meeting, and restrictions were slowly diminishing. And ultimately we ended up with a quorum, and it worked out very well.
Many co-ops had trouble in years past getting a quorum for in-person annual meetings. Was it difficult for this New Rochelle co-op to get a quorum?
We ended up with a quorum both through proxies and people who showed up in person. We had, I would say, approximately 55 to 60 people in the outdoor area. Many brought their own chairs. The board pre-ordered a tent in case the weather was inclement, and we limited the number of professionals on site. We were able to get everybody signed in efficiently and hold an election.
Did you have to take a lot of precautions – mask wearing, social distancing and all that good stuff?
We did. There was still a mask-wearing mandate. We had sanitizer on hand. We spaced people out, and we made sure to remind people to take precautions. Ultimately, the community did cooperate, which allowed us to also have the meeting. If they hadn’t cooperated, we wouldn’t have been able to successfully hold that meeting. But they did it.
What was driving this? Was it an individual on the board? Was it the whole board? Was it the shareholders?
The board president and the board members pushed for it, but ultimately it came down to the community as a whole. There were several discussions with their legal counsel about being able to meet safely, as well as the concerns about any litigation that could potentially come out of it. The community was very supportive behind it, again, by making sure they took the required precautions.
This was an annual meeting of all the shareholders. What about monthly board meetings? Are you going to continue to hold them on Zoom, or are you going to start going back to in-person monthly board meetings as well?
Their upcoming board meeting is going to be held on Zoom. They find the monthly board meetings are very successful on Zoom. If board members are late at work or if they have other obligations or are traveling, they can still attend the meeting. We have not been told that they want to switch back, so it appears that they’re very happy with the way the Zoom regular board meetings are going. And we hear that in many properties – that they like the way it works out.
A lot of co-ops and condos seem to think that virtual annual meetings work much better than in-person meetings. You get better attendance, fewer interruptions, business gets taken care of quicker and better. Which do you prefer? Or do you think it depends on the property?
I think it does depend on the property, but we find that the majority of the Zoom meetings are much more professional. People stay on topic. They’re much more respectful of one another and their boards, and they can submit questions in advance or through the chat box, and we read those questions out. The community ends up getting answers along the way, and there’s allowance for follow-up questions as well. The ironic thing is we’ve had several boards that allowed us to unmute their community, allowing them to ask their questions by either raising a hand or letting us know. And, again, they’ve been very respectful, whereas in person sometimes it gets a little more intense and really takes away from the meeting.
So as a property manager, what would you advise boards on annual meetings in the future?
I really think it’s a building-by-building issue. There’s something to be said for in-person meetings – getting to see the people you represent as a management company, board members getting to see the people they represent. It makes it feel a little bit more like a community. But from a business standpoint, sometimes having that Zoom meeting really makes a difference. It allows us to get a lot done in a timely fashion.