Some associations may have an urgent need to conduct particular business during the COVID-19 outbreak, perhaps even in response to the crisis. Unfortunately, in the upcoming days and weeks, the governing boards of community associations will likely find it to be more and more difficult to meet in person to conduct association business. The governing boards of many community associations -- in particular those without provisions in their governing documents authorizing board members to participate in meetings remotely, and allowing for electronic signatures -- may be at a complete loss as to how to proceed during these uncertain times. The goal may then become to accomplish necessary business without violating orders or posing an undue risk to the community.
Fortunately, there may be some specific guidance for both Massachusetts and New Hampshire associations. In Massachusetts, guidance may be gleaned from the Executive Order signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on March 12, 2020 (hereafter referred to as the March Executive Order). Pursuant to the order, Governor Baker temporarily suspended certain requirements of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at public meetings, and to provide public bodies with an outline for conducting meetings remotely. The March Executive Order now suspends the requirement that municipal board meetings take place in public places that are open and physically accessible to the public -- provided that the public still has access to the municipal board’s deliberations at no charge, through adequate alternative means, i.e., via telephone, internet, or satellite enabled audio or video conferencing, or any other technology that enables the public to follow the meeting in real time. If such alternative means are not available due to economic hardship, a full and complete transcript, recording, or other comprehensive record of the proceedings should be posted to the municipal website soon after said meeting ends.
Further, municipal board members, applicants, participants and members of the public may now participate in municipal board meetings via remote or virtual means, and municipal boards are expected to provide for an alternative means of access so that applicants, participants and members of the public may reasonably participate in municipal board meetings remotely. Otherwise, municipal boards are encouraged to give due consideration to requests for postponement and continuances of public meetings where the use of such ‘alternative means of public access’ may not be practical or otherwise feasible. Although associations are not directly governed by the Open Meeting law, by analogy it is reasonable for an association to utilize the measures presented to ensure that essential business of the community is conducted.