When can you bring up a new topic during a meeting?

© Can Stock Photo/buchachon

At a recent council meeting I attended, the city issued a proclamation honoring efforts to assist the homeless. In responding to the proclamation, a local pastor asked the council to provide extra funding for their project. Before the mayor could move on to public comment, a council member made a motion to provide the funding.

New topics—new main motions—must be brought up at the right time in the agenda. If something occurs to you on the spot that you would like to address during a meeting, here are some options.

  1. If your board follows the standard Order of Business, new items may be brought up during the “New Business” category. Note that many local governments do not use this category, because of the need to ensure that all agenda items are fully staffed and prepared before consideration. Read about agenda here.
  2. When a motion is made to approve the agenda, you can move to add the item. This can be debated and requires a majority vote. (Under Robert’s Rules of Order, if you follow the standard Order of Business, you do not need to take a vote to adopt the agenda. However, many bodies do vote.) With local governments, there may be notice requirements that prevent this action. And at a special meeting, you can’t add new items different from subjects given in the notice.
  3. A motion pertaining to a new issue could be brought up under an agenda item when it is germane (relevant) to the item.
  4. In some councils, members may bring up items during the “Council Comments” period that they would like the council to consider in the future. Action items should not be moved during the comments period itself.
  5. During the meeting, you could move to amend the agenda to include the new item. This takes a two-thirds vote to pass.

If someone moves a new motion at the wrong time, as happened in the example, the chair should explain that the motion must wait until the right agenda category is reached. In this instance, the council moved unanimously to postpone the motion to be considered until after the city manager had made her report, which took care of it.

The “Order of Business” is the list of broad categories of items in a particular order. Here is a simplified version of the standard Order of Business as given in Robert’s Rules of Order:

  • Approval of minutes
  • Officers’ remarks and reports
  • Committee reports
  • Unfinished business (not “old” business)
  • New business

If you serve on a nonprofit board, Jurassic Parliament recommends adopting a special rule of order that gives some flexibility in arranging items of business. It can be wearisome to take up new business only at the end of the meeting, when people are tired. By placing a key item or a strategic issue early in the agenda, you get the benefit of fresh thinking. Read our article What are special rules of order in Robert’s Rules to learn more.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.