Thanks for your note, Mille and Una.
Here’s what some of the Advocates had to say:
Help Rima (and your community) learn more about sociocracy and legal structure.
You could start with these articles:
Legalizing sociocracy: bylaws and governance documents and The legal documentation of sociocracy.
Sounds to me like the property manager doesn’t understand how sociocracy works. Clarify that the board has delegated this authority…If more information doesn’t help you can look for a property manager who is more familiar with sociocracy, or more open to learning about it!
Hire a sociocracy consultant to clarify the legalese and help you communicate with your property manager.
Have the mission circle be the board. Or make decisions at circle level, then get the board to officially “approve” the decisions.
Our community uses Committee of the Whole and Consent Agenda, two sociocracy friendly strategies that help us meet legal requirements.
A Committee of the Whole brings together the people legally responsible for decisions and other stakeholders in those decisions. The general membership, for example, can serve as the Committee of the Whole for the condominium association. Consent decisions made by a Committee of the Whole can then become Consent Agenda items for the condominium association, its executive board, or any group as appropriate.
A Consent Agenda is a meeting practice that groups non-controversial and/or routine items in one agenda item. The Consent Agenda can be approved quickly in one action and without discussion, rather than deciding each item separately. The consent agenda is particularly useful for items that have been previously discussed at length, for example in a Committee of the Whole.
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Thanks for posting this question, and for the responses so far. I was just going to post a similar question myself.
I live in a cohousing community that started about 25 years ago and switched to using Sociocracy as a governance structure and its consent decision-making process about 5 years ago. We set up our structure to have the General Circle also act as the Board of the HOA to have the new structure “fit” (mostly) with our legal documents and requirements. We recently hired a property manager and are getting pushback about how we’ve distributed most of the decision-making authority to our primary circles (those linked to the General Circle). We are considering having the Board officially adopt decisions that these other circles have made to fulfill our legal responsibilities as an HOA board.
Please respond with suggestions or examples of how your community conforms to the standard legal requirements, and where you place your board in your circle structure.
Linda from Westwood Cohousing
This is a great question!
The legality of the decision-making process depends on how you write your legal entity’s bylaws.
If you use a decision making process different than your bylaws, it’s not technically legal. There may be ways to write bylaws and legal documents which aren’t themselves legal, which is why lawyers are a good idea.
I know many orgnaizations which have bylaws that explicitly state sociocratic decision making methods and they are legal (though I’m not sure how many of them have gone to court, that would be interesting to see).
There are certain organizaitonal structures, such as non-profits, which have legal restrictions on their decision making and organizaitonal structure, and thus need some creative work-arounds to ingegrate sociocracy, such as the committee of the whole. John Buck has taught a class discussing some of these elements and has a long history consulting organizations.
@jerry.koch-gonzalez may also know of organizations which have been legally tested in some way.
The short answer is: yes, sociocracy can definatley be legal!
The longer answer is: if you write legally valid bylaws that specify sociocratic governance methods. How you actually go about doing that will vary depending on your state, your legal entity type, etc. You should proably include a lawyer on the process.
SoFA’s Bylaws and Governance Documents page has the most information about it that I know of:
My community, Columbia Ecovillage, in Portland, Oregon is currently exploring the issue of “what is legal?” when it comes to self-governance. Linda–you have stated that your HOA board members are elected by the HOA members and serve as both General Circle members and HOA board members. I am not a qualified condo law attorney and am only “thinking out loud”, but, as a condo owner, I believe HOA board members can legally delegate some of their authority to HOA BOD committees and “circles” are committees. Your community should obtain legal counsel to ensure your practices confirm with legal requirements in your state, but having the HOA BOD “rubber-stamp” substantial decisions made by committee, or circle members, can ensure full compliance with the language of the state statutes that define legal HOA structure and functioning.