Homeowner comments delivered at Board meetings and homeowner meetings should not be subject to selective censorship based on content. When the Board has adopted a policy of opening the floor to homeowner comment, the practice must be administered in an even-handed fashion. The Board may not discriminate against any particular point of view. Any limits that the Board adopts must not be arbitrary or unreasonable, and must not unfairly discriminate among viewpoints seeking expression.
As a group, the opportunity for homeowner comment at a Board meeting is a special privilege. However, if any one homeowner who is not on the Board is granted the opportunity to speak, then every other homeowner no longer has merely a privilege to speak, but the inalienable right . The Board may not allow one topic to be discussed by one homeowner, then disallow any other homeowner the right to speak on any topic whatsoever.
Parliamentary procedures under which our Board operates grants a presiding officer the authority to allow or disallow public comment at a Board meeting by individuals who are not on the Board. Even so, authoritative parliamentarians – including authors of the current edition of Robert’s Rules – echo legal protections against content-based censorship. Even under parliamentary procedures, if any one homeowner is permitted to make a public comment at a Board meeting, then no other homeowner may be prohibited from making public comment on the basis of the content of the comment.
Moreover, after 30 years of unrestricted tradition of extending comment privilege to homeowners, any threat to eliminate this long-standing practice without reasonable and just cause must be denounced. In fact, the national commission working on uniform state laws for homeowners associations encourages states to require HOA boards to lock in the right of homeowners to make public comment at Board meetings. If the presiding officer uses existing executive discretion to rob homeowners of our privilege in order to silence any so-called “controversy,” then the very censorship that is prohibited for a single topic at a single meeting is being imposed on all meetings.
Our homeowners have the right to hear the comments of other homeowners. When we delegate authority to the Board, we do not give up the right to decide the content of the message. We should not be dictated what is good or bad for us to say or to hear. Each and every homeowner has the right to choose what to discuss, not the presiding officer.
At the January 2017 meeting of our Board, homeowner comments were permitted for selected controversial issues at the discretion of the presiding officer, but explicitly prohibited for other urgent concerns, under direct stated threat of forced removal by an armed security officer posted at the Social Hall door. Despite the clear violation of longstanding policy, proper parliamentary procedure and legal protections, homeowners have yet to see any apology or acceptance of responsibility for the abuse of authority. Indeed, if anything, homeowners continue to face the threat of having their privileges and rights to speak ignored, restricted and eliminated.
The more you know, the more you know we need a change. Real access doesn’t place improper restrictions on the content of homeowner comment to the Board. Real leadership will make a clear and concrete commitment to homeowners that censorship of homeowner comment will never again be tolerated, not now, not ever.