So, let's clear the air a bit, in trying to explain the form and protocol of how open forum works here at our Board of Director meetings. To start with, and as many of you already know, Sunnymead Ranch holds monthly Board of Director's meetings at our Clubhouse. Recognizing that, it's important to remember that our board meetings are meetings of the association's board of directors, and not a meeting of association members. Accordingly, members do not have a right to participate in the board's discussions and votes. By statute, members can observe the board conduct business.
In addition to observing board meetings, members can address the board during what's known as the open forum portion of the meeting. This is the same policy followed by municipalities at our city council meetings. Open forum for associations applies to open (non-executive sessions) board meetings (according to Civ. Code §4925) and membership meetings (according to Civ. Code §5000(b)). At that time, members can speak on any issue, whether on the agenda or not (according to Civ. Code §4930(a).) This portion of the meeting has its own rules that apply, which will be explained below.
Although members do not have a legal right to participate in board discussions, the president (or acting-chair) can invite comments from the audience on particular items of business, if he or she so chooses. This is at the discretion of the board. Once comments have been received, discussion can be closed and a vote taken by the directors (or the matter can be tabled to a future meeting).
The first rule that applies to open forum is that the Davis-Stirling Act requires that a reasonable amount of time be set aside by the board for the open forum. The second rule is that members may ask questions, but the board's ability to answer them is limited by statute. As provided for in(Civil Code §4930(b), boards may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed; or ask a question for clarification, make a brief announcement, or make a brief report on the person’s own activities, whether in response to questions posed by a member or based upon the person’s own initiative.
As far as the topics that open forum can include or address, the Open Meeting Act allows the board to establish reasonable time limits (typically up to 3-minutes per speaker) but there is no limit on the number of topics members can raise. (Civ. Code §4930(a).) Boards also cannot create unreasonable rules that would stifle a member's right to address the board. Boards can, however, place reasonable restrictions on some topics. For example, personnel issues should be addressed privately with the board or in writing to the board, and not publicly. And, for example, topics should not:
- involve a matters outside the board's authority,
- be defamatory, indecent, abusive, or involve personal attacks or threats, legal or otherwise,
- involve personnel issues,
- involve the disclosure of confidential information,
- maintenance issues can be raised during open forum but are often better addressed in
In simple terms, here is how open forum is designed to work:
- A member who wishes to speak during open forum will fill out a Speaker's Form, located at the
- The form will be filled out and returned to our General Manager, Ms. Betty Roth;
- Once open forum begins (according to the agenda) each speaker will be asked to come up to the
dais and address the Board (and not the members);
- Each speaker will be given up to three-minutes to speak, and a visible clock will alert them of the
- Each speaker will be given their time to speak on any topic that is allowed;
The board (by statute) is not required to respond to, nor answer questions posed by the speaker at
- Next speaker is asked to address the Board, until all speakers have had an opportunity to do so.
Often times open forum is assumed to have inherent rights of “free speech” being attached to the opportunity to address the Board through open forum. The fact is that free speech issues are often misunderstood when it comes to community associations. First Amendment constitutional protections apply to governmental restrictions on free speech and do not apply to private organizations. Common interest developments are private property where constitutional rights to free expression are limited. (Hudgens v. National Labor Relations Board (1976) 424 U.S. 507; finding no First Amendment right to free expression on private property.) The same is true for state constitutional protections. In Golden Gateway v. Golden Gateway, the California Supreme Court made it clear that the California Constitution protects against restrictions by the state, not private organizations. It's always important to remember these limitations as well as restrictions, when it comes to members using the open forum at our meetings.
And always keep in mind that open forum is designed to allow each and every one of our members to address the Board about their concerns in the governance of our association, and each and every one of our members is entitled to exercise that opportunity.