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.