What’s the proper protocol?
QUESTION: What is the proper protocol for responding to member correspondence? Can we share the correspondence with the entire board? Under what circumstances, if any, can the board discuss member correspondence in executive session?
ANSWER: Most correspondence can go into open meeting board packets for review and discussion by directors. The membership does not have a right to see the correspondence or know who sent it. These are private communications that do not fall into any of the categories of records subject to membership review.
Open Meetings. If the board discusses particular pieces of correspondence in the meeting, it can reference the general topic of the letter without mentioning names. The appropriate person can then be directed to send a response.
Executive Session. Some letters are appropriate for executive session discussion; e.g., letters threatening lawsuits, letters from deranged owners, etc. Those need to be discussed privately and sometimes with legal counsel about how best to handle the situation.
Between Meetings. If a letter is received between meetings that needs immediate attention, the person designated by the board to respond can email the letter to the board along with a draft response. With feedback from directors, the response can be sent. This does not violate the Open Meeting Act if authority has been delegated to someone to handle correspondence (for example, the manager, president or secretary). (Civ. Code §4155.)
RECOMMENDATION: If you have not already done so, boards should designate someone to determine if correspondence received between meetings needs an immediate response or can wait for the next board meeting. Authority should be delegated to the person to send responses as needed. If input is needed from legal counsel, they should have the authority to forward the letter to the association’s attorney. Executive session meetings can be called as needed to discuss the best course of action.
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