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Subject: Homeowner Debates over E-Mail
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NpB
(Arizona)

Posts:82


11/14/2019 11:53 PM  
Some homeowners try to engage in debates with all homeowners (including Board members) on the email distribution list to the point where the discussions become heated, personal, and tedious. Our management company does not recommend that Board members enter into these debates. The latest email debate one homeowner started was to have an email vote on whether or not the Board should revoke a recent decision. Obviously, homeowners cannot legally conduct a vote via email on an issue the Board solely has the power to authorize via a Board vote.

What is the rationale for recommending the Board not enter into these debates. Suppose something personal, catty or gossipy is written about a Board member? Why should the Board member refrain from defending himself/herself?

Can anything legally be done to prevent homeowners from starting email conversations among all 200+ owners? My first instinct is no because it would be abridging freedom of speech. It could get annoying if weekly, a homeowner begins a vote on something and then for a couple days there are dozens of back and forth emails to read.
MelissaP1
(Alabama)

Posts:8753


11/15/2019 4:51 AM  
I see nothing wrong with open communication amongst the membership. It's just not considered official HOA business. Which I would communicate to the membership. That decisions are NOT made through email but at meetings.

Oh and I had a practice that if you sent the Board a letter, we read it out loud at the meeting. That is where we made the decisions and where ALL the board members are assembled. The choice was for you to attend a meeting to present your issue or send a letter. If you sent a letter, we read it outloud and made the decision for a solution for you. You go to the meeting, then you are still subject to other's open opinion. We didn't do things "behind doors". Everyone is in the meeting room.

This is usually changes how people respond once you do this a few times. Leave the email alone and conduct business per the rules.

Former HOA President
SheliaH
(Indiana)

Posts:2761


11/15/2019 10:25 AM  
Well, there's that saying about wrestling with a pig and not being to tell which is which. One of the curses of emails and social media is that people can hide behind a tablet, smartphone or computer and blast all types of BS that they'd never dare to say out loud and to your face because they don't want people to respond in kind - or get slapped into the next galaxy or worse.

If your email list is being abused and you know who's sending the inflammatory email, you could tell sending these people a nastygram and ask them to stop it, but it may be the other homeowners will have to go after these people individually. If you're a board member, sometimes this comes with the territory and you start by ignoring it as best you can. If you don't have the guts to say whatever to my face and you can't do it like an adult, I doubt you have anything significant to tell me anyway.

Such is free speech - you may have the right to say whatever, but that also means you have to take responsibility for the fallout. So...here's a link to an article suggesting ways you can deal with harassing emails - maybe in several board members go after the harasser, he or she (or they) will stop if their email address is shut down and/or they're sued. As you can see, this may come down to individual people taking action. You can also delete the emails without responding - or save them all in case your attorney needs to have a look

https://legalbeagle.com/5073275-stop-harassing-emails.html
GenoS
(Florida)

Posts:3362


11/15/2019 12:19 PM  
Posted By NpB on 11/14/2019 11:53 PM
Our management company does not recommend that Board members enter into these debates.

Good. They should go further and recommend that "email debates" should be ignored by all board members. That means deleting the emails even before they're even read.

Wacky homeowners trying to conduct votes they're not authorized to hold is a perfect example of why. If the homeowners wish to argue among themselves using their own email, then let them. No need to wade into that sewer. Who has time for that? At the end of the day, whatever they say in their emails has no bearing on anything other than their own fragile emotions.
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:1469


11/15/2019 12:31 PM  
This situation, via email, is like paying attention to Facebook or Nextdoor ... don’t engage.

If via email, I would simply have my server automatically send each a note, as they come in, inviting them to the next Board meeting, with instructions on how to find applicable governing docs.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:526


11/15/2019 2:12 PM  
Here's what our attorney said about social media in a community:

* The board should not engage in the discussions, as it's not the appropriate place for HOA business.

* If a board member chimes in, he/she probably hasn't had time to think things through and may say something that they later regret. It's also too easy for homeowners to think that a single board member's opinion is Official and then act accordingly.

* If this is an official, HOA-approved site, then you have some other issues. First, the board is held accountable for everything that appears on the site. Unless the board reviews and deletes inappropriate postings, then the board may find themselves facing legal action because of posts with defamatory statements, copyrighted material, or photos of minors that weren't OK'd by the parents. Second, others have noted that social media can be a real cesspit. Just a few bad actors can poison the atmosphere of a community and undermine all of the hard work done by the board. These bad actors should not be given a platform on which to spew their nonsense.

* If homeowners want to discuss things, there are other options for them such as Nextdoor, that don't involve HOA resources and won't result in any liability for the HOA if discussions get out of hand. The downside of NextDoor and other such sites is that outsiders can form a really negative opinion of a community just based on arguments and bad-mouthing from residents who live there.

(I actually joined NextDoor briefly to see what it was about, and after reading a number of discussions I concluded that I didn't want to live in the community involved. As a board member, I'm able to put things like that into perspective and not be swayed by comments that may not even be true. But the hostile and negative postings still colored my opinion.)

* Finally, our attorney recommended that any HOA-owned web site be informational only, with no options for others to post anything. If someone wants to ignore that, then the very least they should do is appoint a moderator for the site, with posts being released only after review. Obviously this is a time-consuming task, especially when the board may have more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

In short, our board agreed with the attorney that the benefits of social media do not justify the numerous problems that will come along with them.
BarbaraB10
(California)

Posts:117


11/15/2019 2:24 PM  

Hi Np,

Is the distribution list sent as BCC (blind carbon copy) or are all of the recipients in your HOA listed in the "to" field?

The "to" field exposes all email addresses and recipients
whereas
the "BCC" somewhat protects recipients and addresses from exposure to other recipients in the email blast.

I have to agree with others - avoid the bait to debate.






JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:8867


11/15/2019 4:01 PM  
Posted By CathyA3 on 11/15/2019 2:12 PM
Here's what our attorney said about social media in a community:

* The board should not engage in the discussions, as it's not the appropriate place for HOA business.

* If a board member chimes in, he/she probably hasn't had time to think things through and may say something that they later regret. It's also too easy for homeowners to think that a single board member's opinion is Official and then act accordingly.

* If this is an official, HOA-approved site, then you have some other issues. First, the board is held accountable for everything that appears on the site. Unless the board reviews and deletes inappropriate postings, then the board may find themselves facing legal action because of posts with defamatory statements, copyrighted material, or photos of minors that weren't OK'd by the parents. Second, others have noted that social media can be a real cesspit. Just a few bad actors can poison the atmosphere of a community and undermine all of the hard work done by the board. These bad actors should not be given a platform on which to spew their nonsense.

* If homeowners want to discuss things, there are other options for them such as Nextdoor, that don't involve HOA resources and won't result in any liability for the HOA if discussions get out of hand. The downside of NextDoor and other such sites is that outsiders can form a really negative opinion of a community just based on arguments and bad-mouthing from residents who live there.

(I actually joined NextDoor briefly to see what it was about, and after reading a number of discussions I concluded that I didn't want to live in the community involved. As a board member, I'm able to put things like that into perspective and not be swayed by comments that may not even be true. But the hostile and negative postings still colored my opinion.)

* Finally, our attorney recommended that any HOA-owned web site be informational only, with no options for others to post anything. If someone wants to ignore that, then the very least they should do is appoint a moderator for the site, with posts being released only after review. Obviously this is a time-consuming task, especially when the board may have more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

In short, our board agreed with the attorney that the benefits of social media do not justify the numerous problems that will come along with them.




All good points.

NpB
(Arizona)

Posts:82


11/15/2019 4:17 PM  
Excellent points! Routinely, less than 2 homeowners out of 50 show up at Board meetings. The meeting notices are posted publicly and also emails are sent with meeting notice and agendas, yet owners prefer to gripe and start debates over email.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:526


11/16/2019 5:34 AM  
Posted By NpB on 11/15/2019 4:17 PM
Excellent points! Routinely, less than 2 homeowners out of 50 show up at Board meetings. The meeting notices are posted publicly and also emails are sent with meeting notice and agendas, yet owners prefer to gripe and start debates over email.




We're all familiar with those owners. Our attorney refers to them as Vocational Dissidents - no matter what they claim is their purpose, their true goal is to stir up conflict and controversy, not to be well-informed about what's going on. They should do their posturing on their own time and their own dime.
PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:377


11/16/2019 6:00 AM  
There is no "freedom of speech" issue in this situation as it's not the government regulating speech; it's a HOA.

Boards seem to dislike email groups for neighbors, but I think that they're a good idea. As unpleasant as some of the discussions are, it gives people the opportunity to be heard (or feel like they're being heard), rather than making people feel as though community matters are all secret. In short, I think it's better to let people vent rather than have no discussion at all and then people explode at annual meetings.
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:1469


11/16/2019 6:29 AM  
Again, all comms between membership all fine ... but, the Board should engage only formally with membership. If Board members can’t help themselves, and, simply must join the fray, then they should resign from the Board and join in.

Paul, I see your point, but it is more likely that during the course of people yammering at one another via email or fb or etc, they will communicate something that jacks the other person(s) up and create more negative context. This said, they certainly have the right to yap on.
PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:377


11/16/2019 6:30 AM  
GeorgeS21, your points are certainly valid.
MarkM19
(Texas)

Posts:459


11/16/2019 7:08 AM  
NpB,
I think CathyA post is about as logical as you can hope to get here.

I am not a Fan of FB even though I have a daughter that works for that Company for nearly 4 years. I think it brings out the worst in people and beside a few cute Cat videos who needs it.

I have been attacked on sites like these a few times over the years. It takes a thick skin to not react and want to fight back. If you do then trust me you are making their day. Some nasty people live for those days.

When ever I send a note to a homeowner or even talk to an owner I start the conversation with (I am speaking to you as a Homeowner and not as a Board member) I remind them that I am on the Board but I am not the Board. I am in my case 1/5 of the Board and therefore can not make decisions. We also have 1 email address that is forwarded to all Board Members. This keeps people from sending a note to 1 and thinking the whole Board sees it.

GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:1469


11/16/2019 7:21 AM  
Oh, forgot to mention.

When I must actually engage in the business of the neighborhood with members, I always do it via email and note in the email I am doing it with email in order to provide a written record. This usually keeps the interchange tight and professional - on both sides.
NpS
(Pennsylvania)

Posts:3910


11/16/2019 7:29 AM  
Redoing our website.

Decided against an open forum section.

Reasons:

- No one wants to be responsible for monitoring content.
- No one has time to come up with policies on monitoring.
- No one wants to be held accountable for not following a new set of policies.

Sikubali jukumu. Read all posts at your own risk.
ND
(PA)

Posts:375


11/18/2019 9:39 AM  
Posted By GeorgeS21 on 11/16/2019 6:29 AM
Again, all comms between membership all fine ... but, the Board should engage only formally with membership. If Board members can’t help themselves, and, simply must join the fray, then they should resign from the Board and join in.

Paul, I see your point, but it is more likely that during the course of people yammering at one another via email or fb or etc, they will communicate something that jacks the other person(s) up and create more negative context. This said, they certainly have the right to yap on.




This along with CathyA3's input is accurate. The best would be to have no community-wide email list, but those floodgates were opened long ago.

The more the Board Members chime in on things, the more homeowners know you will respond and will continue doing what they are doing.

You need to put a hard stop to this unless you enjoy the chaos. Get your lawyer involved and seek some advice. I suggest sending one final message from the Board to the community email list (with assistance from you lawyer to generate/review but not be full of legal jargon) informing the community that this needs to stop; that what people put in writing could be damaging to themselves or others (think slander, defamation, libel); that official community business needs to be brought before the Board at meetings, that official decisions are made at meetings; and that Board Members will no longer entertain or respond to discussions, rantings, questions, etc. submitted through email.

Neighbors are going to vent and complain to each another. You cannot control that. What you can control is how you respond. Responses from the Board need to be thought out, agreed-upon, consistent, and strategic. Once people see that their venting through emails receives no response, it will subside or potentially stop altogether.

Consider a solitary Board email address for people to submit legitimate questions to. Or if you have an MC, they should be the recipient/filter of all communications.
GenoS
(Florida)

Posts:3362


11/18/2019 12:14 PM  
Posted By CathyA3 on 11/15/2019 2:12 PM
Here's what our attorney said about social media in a community:
...
In short, our board agreed with the attorney that the benefits of social media do not justify the numerous problems that will come along with them.

That's an epic post, CathyA3. If there was such a thing as a "sticky" post on this site, I'd nominate this one to be "pinned" at the top of the page where it would be prominently displayed permanently.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:526


11/18/2019 1:07 PM  
Posted By GenoS on 11/18/2019 12:14 PM
Posted By CathyA3 on 11/15/2019 2:12 PM
Here's what our attorney said about social media in a community:
...
In short, our board agreed with the attorney that the benefits of social media do not justify the numerous problems that will come along with them.

That's an epic post, CathyA3. If there was such a thing as a "sticky" post on this site, I'd nominate this one to be "pinned" at the top of the page where it would be prominently displayed permanently.




*blush* I have to thank my association's attorneys who do their best to train board members and keep us from getting into trouble. I'm often surprised by how many "good ideas" have hidden pitfalls in them.

I should add that even though my community doesn't have an option for community wide email discussions, we do have a board email address as well as a manager's email address, and we encourage people to use them if they have something to say. The current board also does monthly two-page newsletters to keep people informed about what's going on, in addition to updating our web site regularly. This way everyone is given accurate information, and we don't have angry, ill-informed exchanges flying around the community.
KellyM3
(North Carolina)

Posts:1433


11/18/2019 4:39 PM  
Posted By GenoS on 11/15/2019 12:19 PM
Posted By NpB on 11/14/2019 11:53 PM
Our management company does not recommend that Board members enter into these debates.

Good. They should go further and recommend that "email debates" should be ignored by all board members. That means deleting the emails even before they're even read.

Wacky homeowners trying to conduct votes they're not authorized to hold is a perfect example of why. If the homeowners wish to argue among themselves using their own email, then let them. No need to wade into that sewer. Who has time for that? At the end of the day, whatever they say in their emails has no bearing on anything other than their own fragile emotions.




No board member should engage in online debates with homeowners. It's impossible to conduct business in this manner so all the energy is wasted. What energy is generated is negative "heat."
JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:8867


11/19/2019 9:54 AM  
We have a BDO Email address and we request all communication to the BOD be done there. Even if someone called the MC, the MC would direct them that Email address. If anyone Emails the MC, the MC forwards the Email to that address. It is a Gmail address and there can be automatic recipients to all Email sent there. In other words, each BOD Member gets a copy of any Email sent to that address.
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