In mid-March, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Association of Realtors announced it would be turning its midyear conference into a virtual event, promising “to implement new virtual opportunities for member participation.”
The three-week Virtual Realtors Legislative Conference kicked off last week, but two-thirds of its conference sessions will be closed to everyone except committee members, invited guests and NAR staff.
All 1.4 million Realtors pay $150 each in annual dues to NAR plus a $35 special assessment for consumer advertising. The cost of the virtual conference is being paid for out of funds already allocated from NAR’s operating budget as well as some offsetting sponsorships, according to the trade group.
During NAR’s biannual in-person conferences, the trade group doesn’t usually stream sessions, with the occasional exception of its official kick-off event, NAR 360. Thousands of NAR member attendees and registered members of the press can walk into virtually any conference session with few exceptions, such as the Executive Committee and Finance Committee meetings.
Now, in its first virtual conference, with every NAR member with internet access potentially able to attend and hungry for news that may affect their livelihoods, the trade group is streaming 42 of the 124 conference sessions listed on its website. The vast majority of sessions, 82, will not be streamed.
Nearly all of them are governance meetings where NAR members either discuss important issues in a forum format or come together in committees to make decisions affecting their peers and the industry as a whole. Topics include NAR’s budget, an update to the trade group’s “DANGER” report, Realtor safety, fair housing, MLS policy, the Commitment to Excellence program, federal policies, and challenges faced by association executives.
Those discussions will now take place out of sight.
According to Victoria Gillespie, NAR’s chief marketing and communications officer, the non-streamed sessions “are closed to press and non-Committee members for security purposes. The NAR media team will not be covering those sessions either.”
NAR spokesperson Mantill Williams added, “Based on advice from security and legal experts, NAR’s Leadership Team unanimously approved this decision earlier this year in effort to protect the integrity of the voting process at our Board and Committee meetings. Above all else, we believe it is essential to ensure our online voting platforms are secure in this virtual format.”
Inman asked NAR what security issues are involved when an event is being streamed and why some committee meetings where there will be voting are being streamed, but others are not, and why sessions where no voting is taking place, such as forums, are being kept closed.
NAR usually has a running blog and Realtor Magazine writers informing members about goings-on at the conference. Inman asked why press are not invited as guests and how NAR will be informing its members about what happened at each of the non-streamed meetings if even its own media team is not allowed in the sessions. Inman also asked what “new opportunities for member participation” there will be for this conference.
When Bob Goldberg became NAR’s CEO in August 2017, he touted transparency as a core principle. The trade group subsequently started streaming events it never had before, such as its Leadership Live events, and offering increased access to NAR leaders. Inman asked how NAR members should think about that core principle, especially during this time of crisis, given that most conference sessions will be closed to them.
In response, NAR 2020 President Vince Malta said this in an emailed statement:
All NAR members have the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making processes covered during Board of Directors meetings, and NAR members in volunteer leadership positions make determinations every year to open and close certain meetings to the public. NAR honors and respects these decisions, recognizing that certain conversations demand a setting where all parties can speak openly and honestly.
Ultimately, thousands of REALTORS® drive NAR’s governance process. Some necessary conversations can occasionally be difficult, but when disagreements arise it is even more paramount for those involved to be able to speak freely regarding the direction in which they would like to see their association move. All of these members want what is best for NAR, even if the approach may vary widely between members, but fear of having comments misrepresented or misconstrued in the public can sometimes be detrimental to this process. This same logic can be applied to NAR’s decisions against reporting what comes out of Committee, as we respect their position to advance these motions to next levels of voting process.
NAR’s Leadership Team unanimously approved this decision earlier this year in effort to protect the integrity of the voting and deliberating processes at our Board and Committee meetings. Despite this ongoing pandemic, however, we are excited that the same insightful content we make available to our members every year will be offered virtually and at no cost for registered NAR members, and we look forward to hosting the largest and broadest virtual event in NAR’s history next week.
The Virtual Realtors Legislative Meetings will continue until the NAR board of directors meeting on May 15. The trade group’s board will decide which of the proposals put forward by NAR’s various committees during the previous days of the conference to approve. The meeting will not be streamed.
One thing won’t change: Inman usually receives a copy of the board of directors packet laying out all of the proposals to be voted on on the morning of the board meeting. NAR said it will provide Inman a copy of the board of directors packet on the evening of Thursday, May 14.