IS DEBATE AND PROPER DECORUM POSSIBLE ANY LONGER?

Maybe it’s the media’s fault, talk radio, reality TV, our medications, our upbringing or a simple degradation of how we feel and respect each other, but it seems that pure debate has been replaced with vulgarities, interruptions and even threats, both physical and verbal.

One of the worst inventions in terms of human behavior is e-mail and the ability to text each other.  Everyone is a tough guy behind the key board.  People put in print words that they would never have the courage to say face to face.

Clients are always showing me one e-mail or another where either a board member,  unit owner or renter drops f bombs and terrible accusations.  Some of them are truly stunning and may be criminal.  Others are just rude, crude and plain rotten.  When I see some of the comments men say to women I cringe and admittedly hope the guy gets his lights punched out one day.

As we all know…..board meetings are often times worse than e-mails or texts.  So how do we maintain decorum?  Is it even possible?  Do we let anyone say anything as long as they do it within three minutes?  Do we post rules that say no profanity, no screaming, no yelling?  If these rules are violated, do we sue?  Do we fine?

All of these remedies may be possible, and in many an instance the right thing to do.  But, there may be easier solutions. I have generally found that people who know they are being recorded by a video camera are less likely to act nuts.  Video record your meetings.  Use a timer when giving people their three minutes to speak that can easily be seen.  Have a firm rule across the board – everyone gets three minutes.  No exceptions.

Finally, if there is genuine concern for violence to occur at your meeting, hire a police officer to attend.  Contact your local police department and make the necessary arrangements. This is very common now and works well.  People may be passionate about how they feel, but that passion tends to diminish when the police officer tells them they’re going to get handcuffed if they don’t calm down.  It’s unfortunate that this may be necessary, but if we can’t talk to each other in a civil tongue, there may not be much of a choice.

Attorneys are certainly passionate when we’re in the courtroom.  Sometimes things get heated, but it is very rare for things to get out of control.  It’s not because attorneys are more level headed than the average participant at a condo or HOA meeting.  It’s because we know if we go too far, there are consequences.  A contempt charge, a referral to The Florida Bar or even getting escorted out of the courtroom in a pair of silver bracelets.

So what should the consequences be at our meetings when owners or board members go off the deep end and cause chaos?  How do we prevent this in the first place? I’m open to suggestions

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