Marietta mayor vetoes making Juneteenth a paid city holiday

Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Marietta City Hall erupted into cheers Wednesday night after a measure to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for city employees passed.

Those cheers turned into jeers once the mayor vetoed the council’s decision.

After an attempt to override the mayor’s veto failed by one vote, the councilwoman who lobbied for Juneteenth’s city holiday status got up and left the building.

“I will just say that this day will go down in the history of Marietta,” Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson said as she closed her binder and stood up to leave.

The topic of whether to add Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S., to city and county holiday lists has become controversial in many metro Atlanta communities. While some recognized the holiday before the federal government and state of Georgia got on board in 2021, the item has become a lightning rod in cities like Marietta and Tucker, which also discussed and rejected the holiday.

Marietta’s holiday discussion quickly became a debate on why Juneteenth should be added to the city’s holiday calendar when it omits Veterans Day. Longtime Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin said that was the primary reason he vetoed the item.

“I’d hate to do one and not the other,” Tumlin said during the City Council meeting, emphasizing the city’s connection to military locations including Dobbins Air Reserve Base and Lockheed Martin. “Veterans Day is awfully important.”

The veto, which happened more than three hours into Wednesday’s meeting, prompted several residents and activists to voice their disappointment.

“I’ve been quite proud of the city that I lived in, but I must say with great disdain that I’m highly disappointed that this is even a conversation that we had to have,” Jeriene Bonner Grimes, president of the Cobb County NAACP, said during the meeting.

The cost of adding a holiday

Wednesday wasn’t the first time Juneteenth was discussed in Marietta.

The NAACP has held an annual Juneteenth festival on Marietta Square for more than 15 years, and Cobb County voted last year to make it a county holiday. It’s been a topic of discussion in city meetings and committees as well.

Richardson attempted to bring the item to the city’s personnel and insurance committee, which she chairs, but the proposal did not pass due to opposition from Councilmembers Griffin Chalfant and Johnny Walker, the Marietta Daily Journal reported. However, Richardson was able to add the item to Wednesday’s regular meeting agenda, prompting Juneteenth’s comparison to Veterans Day.

Richardson, who said she’s the only veteran on the City Council, added that she would be open to making both Juneteenth and Veterans’ Day city holidays, but she said that wasn’t what they were discussing Wednesday.

“I think that’s a separate vote,” she said. “As you (Tumlin) said, (Veterans Day) has been around since 1918... and it’s not been brought up as a holiday before now. And I think to put them on together is to say that the only way one will be supported is if both happen.”

The city currently has 10 paid holidays for employees and can add more, but each one reportedly costs about $50,000 to $55,000, according to City Manager Bill Bruton.

The vote passed 4-3, with Joseph Goldstein, M. Carlyle Kent and Andre Sims joining Richardson by voting yes. Chalfant, Walker and Andy Morris all voted against the holiday. After the mayor’s veto, the vote to override the veto fell along the same voting lines and failed because the override needed five votes.

Tumlin, who said he was in favor of looking at both Juneteenth and Veterans Day more closely, did not immediately respond to the AJC’s request for comment about his veto. But he told the Marietta Daily Journal after the vote that Veterans Day is “multiple times more inclusive” because “everybody has veterans in their family.”

In addition to the county’s NAACP president, four other community members spoke at the end of the meeting to chastise the mayor’s decision.

“I am the grandson of a World War II veteran,” Gerald Griggs, a Cobb resident and attorney, said. “I am the son of a Vietnam veteran who worked in the city of Marietta as a postal clerk. He would be ashamed of what you just did, so don’t talk to me about veterans. I love veterans. I’m the son of a veteran, but I’m also the great-great-great-grandson of a slave.”