Columnist

Keeping cool while the heat's on full blast

 
 
Published: 8/27/2010 12:01 AM

"The heat is on, on the street, inside your head -" Glenn Frey

Having represented boards for 33 years, I can tell you without hesitation that whenever we have a record hot summer like this one, tempers get frayed, patience is worn, irritability is at an all-time high, and it seems like every meeting is primed with a lit fuse.

I have seen reasonable, calm people completely lose it and there are more owner revolts and faction fights than at any other time.

It is hard to get people to calm down until the fall temperatures start to slip in, but there are ways to diffuse some of the anger and edginess.

First, consider the most basic question: Is this meeting really necessary?

Considering many people are on vacation, or visiting their kids at camp-parents day, you can just tell from traffic patterns that many people are out of town.

In anticipating this every summer, blistering or otherwise, a board can consider having a June board meeting and the next one in September. It is just a question of preplanning (emergencies being an exception, of course).

I have tried to encourage boards to consider a quarterly meeting instead of a monthly meeting for years. If the budget has been adopted for the year with specific line items, then money has already been allocated and earmarked for specific expenses. These payments do not require an additional vote at a meeting; that would be redundant.

If the manger has the appropriate level of spending authority (and that does not include the $500 to $1,000 discretionary spending which is standard in most contracts), when the landscaping monthly invoice comes in, the manager can just pay it.

With fewer meetings during a blistering summer, it is one or more fewer opportunities to be confronted by people who are "hot under the collar."

Secondly, if you must have a meeting and the president has a short fuse or lashes back under pressure, have a calmer personality run the meeting. It does not even have to be a board member. It should be someone who knows how to diffuse conflict and keep calm.

I recall a board member taking control of a hostile crowd several years ago, with calm cool reserve and stating: "There will be no blood spilled here tonight." It definitely had a calming effect over an angry mob grousing about the construction of a play lot. "Yes we should, no we shouldn't - !"

Third, for those associations set up on fiscal years instead of calendar years, adopting the budget and allocating expenses and revenues can be handled a little early; they usually are anyway, even by calendar year associations, due to the holidays.

Fourth, serve cold drinks. Even the best air conditioning systems cannot keep everyone cool in a crowded room, when it is 97 degrees with 97 percent humidity. Having an ice chest with water bottles or a big cooler will save a lot of wear and tear on your nervous system.

Fifth, it is OK to take a recess. If things are heating up, take a break and talk one on one to the angriest, loudest of the attendees. Sometimes some personal face time can get the situation under control so after the break cooler heads can prevail. 

Sixth, if the issue is controversial, appoint a committee to review the proposal(s), look into alternatives, adjourn the meeting and look at it again at a subsequent meeting, preferably in January! (People are less inclined to be angry when they are wearing a parka.)

Seventh, meet later in the evening when the sun goes down and it is cooler, or on Saturday morning, before the heat has risen for the day. Cooler temperatures mean cooler heads.

Eighth, follow the 24-hour rule. If you need to vent, right that nasty e-mail or letter and then set it aside until the next day. You will definitely not want to send it until you have toned it down. It will save you from a nasty backlash.

Lastly, a practice that I have instituted over the years is that when tempers flare and people are raising their voices, the louder they get, the softer I get. It is hard for someone to yell at a soft-spoken person.

It is hard enough to run an association in these uncertain economic times, and people who are worried may want to vent, but the board meeting is definitely the wrong venue. The manger and the people who volunteer to serve on the board cannot fix life's problems, they can only fix the leak in the roof.

• Jordan Shifrin is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to jshifrin@ksnlaw.com. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel. Past columns can be read at www.ksnlaw.com.