Sandy Springs votes to make Juneteenth, Veterans Day ‘floating’ holidays

Sandy Springs officials have come to agreement on how to honor the Juneteenth holiday.

In reviewing its 2023 holiday calendar, City Council grappled over whether the city should recognize Juneteenth – and if so, how.

City Council voted Tuesday to recognize both Juneteenth and Veterans Day by adding one floating holiday to the list of annual paid holidays. Staff will be able to use the floating holiday any time throughout the year as they choose. And similar to Sandy Springs’ annual Veterans Day event, a celebratory program will be created for Juneteenth.

Veterans Day 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. Because staff is needed to put on the event, five years ago the city replaced Veterans Day with Columbus Day as a paid holiday.

“Informally, we’ve all spent quite a bit of time talking about this over the last three weeks. I think this is a good solution,” Councilman John Paulson said.

The new floating holiday will cost the city $195,000 annually, officials have said.

While some council members say they only recently became familiar with Juneteenth, Councilwoman Melody Kelley and some residents have argued for the city to close on June 19.

“If you can’t go to the post office for your mail, the (Department of Motor Vehicles) for your tags (or) the bank for your money, why should you be able to come to Sandy Springs to renew your business license?” Kelley said during the council meeting.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. While it became a federal holiday in 2021, the event has been celebrated in communities across the U.S., including Atlanta, for decades.

The issue of whether to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for city employees was controversial with other local governments earlier this year.

According to Kelley, Sandy Springs had the lowest number of paid holidays (10) per year compared to 15 other similar size cities in Georgia, from Atlanta to Savannah.

Sandy Springs, Roswell, Alpharetta and Johns Creek were four cities noted in her presentation that did not recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Atlanta, Columbus, Augusta, Macon, Savannah, Athens, South Fulton, Warner Robins, Albany, Marietta and Stonecrest were noted cities that have made Juneteenth a paid holiday.

Kelley linked her own family history and separately Sandy Springs’ history to slavery.

In her presentation, she showed census records from Sandy Springs in 1859 when it was called Oak Grove and prominent family names, which are now recognized as street names, resided on the land.

A total of 77 property owners owned 34 enslaved people who were treated as taxable property. That number did not include the elderly and infants, the councilwoman said.

Kelley said that in today’s numbers it would equate to 10,000 enslaved people.

“That’s what it would look like applied to today’s population and density in Sandy Springs,” Kelley said later.

During the meeting, the councilwoman presented her own family connection to slavery showing Louisiana census records of her enslaved ancestors, one of which was a young mother similar to Kelley. She included a Louisiana photo of herself at age 2, standing beside her late grandfather who helped to raise Kelley and was himself raised by freed slaves, she said.

Kelley said the connection from her ancestors to her grandfather — a sharecropper with a fourth grade education — to her own accomplishments earning multiple degrees including a doctorate and working as an associate professor and elected official demonstrates how “honoring that (kind of) legacy is what Juneteenth is all about.”