Zooming in on Virtual MeetingsSep 05, 2022
By Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. CCAL
Dear Mr. Richardson: During the Covid shutdown, the board used Zoom to hold meetings. Now that we are able to have in-person board meetings, we have the following situation. If the board is in the community room and many of us are watching from home, there is no way that people watching on zoom can raise their hand and verbally speak to the board or even type a question into the chat. Our manager said the only company that can do what we are asking for is expensive. For now, anyone who wants to speak to the board must show up in the community room. How can the board have a legal meeting using an inexpensive platform and make this work? L.O., Nipomo.
Hi Kelly: Can HOA’s still hold zoom meetings when Covid cases run high but the state has not declared a "State of Emergency”? If HOAs must provide “in-person” meetings, how do HOAs provide virtual access to residents or board members who want to participate at the meeting, but due to an illness or fear of infection? What technical solutions can the used to add them to the “in-person” meeting? What equipment is available to provide both forms of attending the board meeting? Do boards have an obligation to find the solution? Best regards, S.K., Coronado
Dear L.O. and S.K.: Yes, purely virtual meetings are not permitted under the Open Meeting Act, which requires that in addition to a virtual or telephonic mode there must be a physical location someone can attend to observe the meeting with at least one director or HOA designee present (Civil Code Section 4090(b)).
Many have mistakenly thought that last year’s emergency legislation, Senate Bill 391, authorizes purely virtual open board meetings – but the new Civil Code Section 5450 allows purely virtual meetings only if a declared emergency prevents the meeting or renders it unsafe. Since it appears there are no counties currently banning in-person meetings, the law does not provide any present help and is too late for the Covid pandemic.
Hybrid meetings are not required, but are a good idea for most HOAs. Virtual platform company subscriptions are a minor expense. The most important part of the hybrid meeting is to ensure the HOA has adequate microphone and speaker function in the room where the live meeting occurs –laptops, tablets, and cell phones are inadequate to allow everyone to hear and be heard. The meeting’s video portion is less important, but it is important to have a device which operates as a “speakerphone” and used as the only microphone or speaker allowed on in the room – multiple speakers and microphones will cause annoying feedback or echoes. Open forum is required, but that does not require the “chat” function be enabled. The chat function sometimes is abused horribly by members, who use it during board meetings to argue with each other or to write outlandish comments that normal people would never speak out loud. Most virtual platforms also have a “hand raised” function so one can indicate a wish to speak during open forum. However, whether you are in the room or attending virtually, once open forum is over, then the audience, virtual and live alike, is there to listen and not to participate.
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