A proposed policy that would involve monitoring Foothills HOA residents’ comments about their board and the Foothills Association is emerging as a potential issue as the board enters its election season.
While the policy has been shelved until after the Oct. 21 election for four seats on the seven-member board, one of the candidates already has questioned why it was even proposed.
While the policy would give the board authority to remove posts from any of the HOA’s social media platforms, it also would impact posts on “social media platforms owned and managed by others that may influence Association activities.”
“In order to protect the reputation of the community and its members, as well as property values within the community, it is expected that owners and residents will refrain from using social media to post vulgar, inflammatory, harassing or negative comments regarding the Association or its directors, community manager, management staff and vendors,” the policy states.
“Complaints or grievances regarding the Association and its operations should be communicated to the Association’s community manager or its board of directors,” it adds.
While the proposal does not indicate whether there would be penalties for offending posts on third-party sites, it would authorize their removal from Foothills-controlled social media.
The proposal calls for a “social media committee” made up of three of the board’s seven members.
The committee’s responsibilities would be to “advise and make recommendations to the board regarding the use of social media by the association, creating and overseeing Association-controlled social media sites and the use of social media by third parties about the association and its members.”
Board member Gary Walker, who has long advocated for a more expansive social media presence for the Association and the board, told AFN that the policy is partly related to the fact that it has a Facebook page that isn’t fully operational.
“At the present time we do not allow comments or posting on our FCA Facebook page and only use it to augment our website as an update site,” he said. “We would like to expand usage but are hesitant without a policy. A key element of the policy, if adopted, would be the creation of a committee comprised of board members and homeowners.”
He noted that the main thrust of the policy is regulating board members’ and association management’s social media activity.
“If you’ve seen the draft of the policy, you are aware that our focus is on our community management company and board member conduct,” Walker said. “We will more formally create conduct rules so that no single board member will create any liability for the community based on individual comments that may be interpreted as board action.”
Asked if offensive posts by residents would be penalized with a fine, Walker said, “Of course not, and we didn’t need Val Vista Lakes to bring this point home.”
“As mentioned, we want to monitor third-party social media because it’s been proven we can support homeowners more effectively,” he said. “We also want to be able to escalate to the board when incorrect information damaging to the community is posted.”
Walker also said, “Monitoring other social media comments is the responsible thing for the board to do.
“In many case, valid complaints or problems are posted there rather than directly to the Association. In many cases we have been able to reach out to a homeowner to resolve an issue that was posted on social media,” he said.
The reference to Val Vista Lakes HOA, raised in a question by AFN, involves a fight between that Gilbert homeowners association board and some residents that began in the late fall and spilled into early this year.
The Val Vista board last fall proposed banning the community’s 2,300 homeowners from posting negative comments about the board, residents or the HOA’s employees and agents.
Penalties for violation included clubhouse privileges suspension, attorney fees and other costs related to enforcement action and fines ranging from $50 to $150.
In January, the HOA’s lawyer sent letters to eight residents that accused them of critical comments that “specifically defame and negatively impact others in the community” and demanded they “cease posting any disparaging, speculative, or defaming comments.”
The letters provoked outrage among numerous residents and while the board backed off enacting the ban, several board members were targeted by a successful recall election,
The Foothills social media proposal immediately came under attack by resident Rob Doherty, who helped lead a successful election that changed several Association bylaws – the most controversial being the imposition of term limits that impact several current board members.
Doherty is now a candidate in the board election.
“I was shocked” by the proposed policy, he said.
He said the matter of a social media policy had been “casually raised” by a board member at its July meeting and again last month but “no one had a copy of it.”
“When it came out a few days later, it was completely different than what they had advertised,” Doherty said.
“The HOA has no business trying to regulate speech,” he said. “The community needs to have free and open discussion.”
Calling the proposal “a prime example of HOA overreach,” Doherty said “the board of directors is overseen by the community, not the other way around.”
“This attempt to regulate speech will backfire, just like it did at Val Vista Lakes in Gilbert,” he added. “Even if this policy was limited to the board’s own online forum, it would still be flawed. Nobody would trust the content of such a forum knowing that the board could delete any comments it doesn’t like.
“If anything, this policy should be the opposite of what it is -- it should explicitly prohibit the board from regulating speech in any online forum it creates. Only then would the community be assured that the board’s forum discussions are free from manipulation by the board.”
Walker said the policy is not aimed at punitive action and that it was drafted in the spirit of “we can only expect good conduct and hope that homeowners would escalate grievances to the Foothills Community Association for response and resolution.”
“We certainly are aware of Val Vista Lakes, but would like to emphasize that our proposed policy is not similar to theirs at all,” Walker said.
Added board member Gary Reny: “I think there is some misinterpretation of what this draft policy actually says.
“The board has been seeking ways to utilize social media to be more transparent and directly connect with our association members and homeowners. We can’t do that without a social media policy,” he said.
And since the board has tabled the measure until after the election, Reny said, “We want to take our time to listen and process all feedback to ensure this is done properly."