Sandy Springs grapples with making Juneteenth an official holiday

The Sandy Springs Public Facilities Authority has unanimously approved a request to provide complimentary parking for patrons attending the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. (Courtesy City Springs)

Credit: custom

Credit: custom

The Sandy Springs Public Facilities Authority has unanimously approved a request to provide complimentary parking for patrons attending the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. (Courtesy City Springs)

A seeming straight-forward agenda item for a Sandy Springs City Council meeting drew pointed comments on whether the city should make Juneteenth a paid holiday for its employees.

City Council appeared to be set to approve its 2023 holiday calendar during a regular meeting Tuesday. But the decision was deferred to Dec. 6 because Juneteenth was not on the list of 10 holidays to be observed.

City staff will return on that date with options to recognize Juneteenth in “an appropriate” and “educational way,” Mayor Rusty Paul said.

During public comment, residents asked council members to include Juneteenth as a paid holiday. The commenters tied the meaning of Juneteenth to their Black ancestors’ struggles and accomplishments in the face of adversity

“Juneteenth is about the dream of our ancestors … The dream of freedom,” resident Dontaye Carter said. “That freedom came at a price. What we’re asking you as our representatives is to celebrate that dream with us and make Juneteenth not only a city-recognized holiday, but one that we (want you) ... to fund (as a day off ) for all our city workers.

Councilwoman Melody Kelley, who put forth the motion to defer voting on the holiday calendar, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the omission of Juneteenth had become a concern in recent days.

“…If it had passed, Juneteenth would’ve become the only federal and state holiday that Sandy Springs does not formally acknowledge or apply any resources toward,” she said.

Veterans Day is also not on the city’s holiday calendar. It was a paid holiday until 2017 when Sandy Springs began an annual event on that date to honor staff, city officials and others who have served in the military. Staff is needed to put on the event.

Columbus Day replaced Veterans Day on the holiday schedule.

The issue of whether to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for city employees has been controversial with other local governments earlier this year. It has also been an issue of debate in the private sector.

Each paid holiday costs the city $210,000 and includes overtime for essential personnel, City Manager Eden Freeman told City Council. If Council members consider one of the 10 holiday slots as a floating holiday it would cost the city $195,000.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in 1865 two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. While Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, the event has been celebrated in communities across the U.S. for decades. Atlanta held its 10th annual celebration last summer.

Some Sandy Springs council members who support recognizing the holiday say they first learned of Juneteenth within the last two years, adding that they’re not in favor of increased financial cost to the city.

Last summer, Kelley, Carter and other residents hosted a Juneteenth celebration on City Springs campus that drew about 700 people from different cultures but it was not an official city event.

Kelley told the AJC that as Sandy Springs’ first Black City Council person, it has at times been challenging to explain to fellow councilmembers the importance of officially recognizing Juneteenth.

“I felt the weight of my color and of being a millennial, and thinking about other millennials,” she said of the Tuesday meeting. “We want the space to develop traditions around these new holidays, and if our governments are not acknowledging them, it makes it harder for us to do that.”