At some point in some board meeting, you’re like to hear a presiding officer ask, “Is there any Old Business?” and wait for a reply. It’s intended as an opportunity for members to raise issue that were addressed at an earlier meeting. The problem with this question is twofold:
- “Old Business” isn’t a category of business.
- Even if it were, the chair doesn’t need to ask for it.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS “OLD BUSINESS“
Whether your parliamentary authority is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition) or some other parliamentary manual, there’s no category of business named “Old Business.” The proper term for business that carries over from the prior meeting is “Unfinished Business.” The difference is more than just words.
“Old Business” makes it sounds like this is the part of the meeting where we can talk about any “old” thing we’ve ever discussed in the history of the organization. That’s a very bad idea. In contrast, “unfinished” business makes it clear that these business items have carried over from the prior meeting. We need to resolve such motions at the current meeting because they weren’t “finished” at the last one.
Here’s where unfinished business falls in the standard Order of Business followed by most business meetings:
Call to Order
Reading and Approval of Minutes
Reports of Officers
Reports of Boards & Standing Committees
Reports of Special Committees
Not all meetings have unfinished business. An organization must meet at least four times a year for there to be unfinished business. As a result, boards often have unfinished business. Annual meetings usually do not. For organizations that meet at least quarterly, unfinished business falls into one of three categories:
- A matter that was on the prior meeting’s agenda but didn’t get reached because the meeting adjourned.
- A matter that was being discussed at the prior meeting, but then the meeting adjourned during discussion.
- A matter that was being discussed at the prior meeting, but a motion to Postpone the matter to the current meeting was made and adopted.
AS TO “UNFINISHED BUSINESS,” THE CHAIR DOESN’T NEED TO ASK FOR IT
As noted above, the chair never needs to ask if there is any “Old Business,” because there is no such term. However, the chair also never needs to ask if there is any “Unfinished Business.” That’s because the chair will know what did or didn’t get resolved at the prior meeting. As a result, a presiding officer simply states the question on the first item of unfinished business. Or, if there is no unfinished business, the chair can skip this category altogether or simply announce that there is no unfinished business.
Jim Slaughter is an attorney, Certified Professional Parliamentarian, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, and past President of the American College of Parliamentary Lawyers. He is author of four books on meeting procedure, including Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track and Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fifth Edition. For more information, visit www.jimslaughter.com.