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“Who Said What?” Board Officers Should be Careful how They Handle Their Official vs. Personal Communications to Members – Part I

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There is no doubt that technology has significantly improved the way communities and neighbors interact and communicate with one another.  The sheer number of social media applications and web-based platforms available to individuals and community associations make it easy for information (and misinformation) to be disseminated quickly among hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in a matter of seconds with a simple key stroke or the click of a mouse.

For community associations, technology has become an indispensable tool for many boards and management companies, so much so that Florida Law now requires condominium associations with 150 or more units to maintain and operate a website which must include access to the association’s governing documents, official notices and other official records of the association.  Many association boards have found these websites helpful in timely communicating critical information to the membership. However, what happens when an officer or director of the association “hijacks” the association’s official means of communicating with the membership as a platform to communicate their own personal opinions and agenda? For example, what happens when the board secretary uses the association’s official email address or website platform not only to communicate about events in the community but also to complain or gossip about another board member?

As a starting point, board members would be wise to keep in mind that any communication or message they send (via email, Facebook, or any other form of social platform) to the membership about the association may be construed or interpreted by a member as “official” communication of the Board.  For example, a board president’s tweets or emails to certain members of the community about the poor condition of the gates and the need to hire new vendors may be interpreted by others as the official stance of the board as opposed to the personal opinion of the board president. Drawing the line between official association correspondence and unofficial personal communication of a board member is extremely important because the individual actions and words of a director may be accredited to the board or the association — even if the board had no official role. This is especially troublesome if the officer’s comments are defamatory or discriminatory against vendors or other members in the community (think defamation/slander suit or a housing discrimination claim under the federal or Florida Fair Housing Act).

Board members should also remember that while a director is free to maintain separate unofficial methods of personal communication with other members of the community, a director should not, while purporting to act in their official capacity, use his or her personal means of communication to send association notices or to communicate about association business.  Additionally, the duties and responsibilities of each officer on the board is defined and limited to those provided in the governing documents of the sssociation.  Most governing documents restrict the sending of association notices to one or two officers (ie: secretary or vice president).  Accordingly, association information and notices regarding official association business should only be sent in accordance with the governing documents and Florida Law.

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