executive session

Understanding Executive Session

Most condominium and homeowner associations in Washington and Oregon are subject to open board meeting requirements.  The requirements are similar to the laws governing city councils and other governmental agencies. Conceptually, the policy behind open meeting requirements is that members of the community association are entitled to listen and witness the deliberation, discussion, and decision making of the board of directors.

Prior to any board of director meeting, notice must be given to all owners within the community. The notice must state the time and place of the meeting, and ideally, the meeting agenda. Owners are allowed to attend the board meeting, but because non-board members are not part of the “assembly”, owners do not have a right to vote or participate while the board is conducting its business.

There is an exception to the open meeting requirement: executive session. Executive sessions may be used so that the board can discuss private or sensitive topics behind closed doors. Keep in mind, no decisions are made in executive session—it’s only for discussion.

Here’s how the board should use executive session:

1. During a regularly noticed and scheduled board meeting, any member of the board may make a motion to adjourn to executive session.

2. The motion should indicate the general topic of discussion.

3. Once the motion passes, the board asks the audience to exit the meeting or the board moves to a different location.

4. The board then discussed the topic at issue.

5. Once the executive session is completed, the board moves back into the open meeting.

6. If there is an action item as a result of the executive session, a motion is made and a vote taken once back in the open meeting.

Remember, there are only certain topics which are appropriate for executive session. For Washington homeowner associations, those topics are:

1. Considering personnel matters;

2. Consulting with legal counsel or considering communications with legal counsel; and

3. Discussion of likely or pending litigation, matters involving possible violations of the governing documents of the association, and matters involving the possible liability of an owner to the association. (RCW 64.38.035)

For Oregon planned communities and condominium associations, the executive session topics are:

1. Consultation with legal counsel;

2. Personnel matters;

3. Negotiation of third party contracts; and

4. Discussion of delinquent assessments. (ORS 94.640, ORS 100.420)

Open Meetings and Executive Session

Open Meetings Requirement Washington and Oregon require homeowner association board meetings to be open to the membership. (ORS 94.640 / RCW 64.38.035)

First, it is important to understand what constitutes a “board meeting.” Oregon law defines a board meeting as “a convening of a quorum of members of the board of directors at which association business is discussed, except a convening of a quorum of members of the board of directors for the purpose of participating in litigation, mediation or arbitration proceedings”

If a quorum of the board is discussing association business, whether in person or by electronic means, the board communication is considered a “meeting" which must comply with the open meetings requirements as set forth by statute.

In general, all meetings of the board must be open to owners and properly noticed, except for emergency meetings. There is no specific definition of an “emergency,” but it would likely include addressing items such as threats to the immediate health, life or safety of residents or preventing significant or irreparable damage to the common property of the Association.

Board members often ask if it’s okay to communicate with other board members via email. Oregon law addresses this issue: “the meeting and notice requirements in this section may not be circumvented by chance or social meetings or by any other means”.

In other words, alternate forms of communication, such as email, cannot and should not be used for the purpose of circumventing the open meetings requirements. It is crucial to understand the risk that any decisions that the Board makes at, or as a result of, improper meetings could potentially be invalidated.

Executive Session

Oregon and Washington provide an exception to the open meetings requirement. Boards may meet in executive session, outside the presence of the owners, to discuss certain topics.

In Washington, those topics include:

1. Consideration of personnel matters; 2. Consultation with legal counsel or to consider communications with legal counsel, and discuss likely or pending litigation, 3. Matters involving possible violations of the governing documents of the association; and 4. Matters involving the possible liability of an owner to the association.

In Oregon, executive session topics include:

1. Consultation with legal counsel; 2. Personnel matters, including salary negotiations and employee discipline; 3. Negotiation of contracts with third parties; and 4. Collection of unpaid assessments.

Here’s how executive session works: During a normal, open board meeting, any board member may make a motion to convene in executive session. The minutes of the meeting should reflect the motion to convene in executive session. The board members then discuss the relevant issues in executive session.  Once the discussion is complete, the board reconvenes to the open meeting. If any motions or decisions need to be made, they are done so once the board has returned to the open meeting. There are no motions, and no voting, during the executive session.

Remember, the purpose of the open meetings laws is to ensure that owners are able to observe the deliberations, debates and decision making of the board of directors. Open meetings and transparency are critical to a well-run association.