Melody Kelley wanted to delay a vote on Sandy Springs’ official holidays until more research could be completed on adding Juneteenth to the list. (Special)

Sandy Springs City Council delayed voting on its 2023 holidays until staff can gather more information about how they can allow employees to celebrate Juneteenth.

The federal and state governments recognize Juneteenth – June 19 – as a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.

The City Council approved Councilmember Melody Kelley’s motion to defer the vote on the city’s holidays until Dec. 6 during its Nov. 15 meeting.

Kelley said she hoped City Council could discuss what they could do with the opportunities the holiday presents to further goals around diversity and inclusion in the community.

A Juneteenth celebration was held on the City Green at City Springs this year that was organized by private individuals.

That event demonstrated that Juneteenth is already a holiday in Sandy Springs, especially for those who trace their lineage back to the enslaved, Kelley said.

“So the question before us is really do we want our policy to catch up with the community aspiration, and to what extent do we want it to cost taxpayers?” she said. “That part of it is not lost on me.”

City Manager Eden Freeman said if the city establishes a set holiday, it triggers overtime for essential personnel who get paid time and a half. Each of the city’s 10 holidays costs the city approximately $210,000 a year.

Kelley said she believed recognizing the holiday “would do a great service to our community to help educate what Juneteenth actually means and why we should recognize the importance of that day.”

Some city staff would need to work to add an educational component to the holiday, she said.

Councilman John Paulson said they shouldn’t base a decision on the cost, but on what was important to the community. He hoped a solution like the Veterans Day observance could be worked out at minimal cost.

Before the City Council had its discussion about the holiday, local residents offered their comments.

David Couchman said the city needed to include Juneteenth and Veterans Day as new holidays to stay competitive and keep employees. For a city that takes pride in its diversity and inclusion, not adding the holiday sends the wrong message, he said.

Dontaye Carter, who said he was a founding member of the committee that organized the 2021 Juneteenth celebration at City Springs, said the city needs it as a holiday.

He discussed learning about his own heritage, starting with the docks in Savannah where his ancestors arrived in this county as enslaved people. His maternal grandmother grew up in segregated Atlanta. She worked as a nanny and a maid in what is now called Sandy Springs but moved as far west as she could when she was old enough.

“She wept when I ran for mayor, and she wept when Dr. Kelley was elected,” he said.

The 700 participants that came out in 100-degree temperatures last year celebrated in acknowledgment of the past and of African American culture, Charles Sharper, the executive director of Healthy Youth USA in Sandy Springs, said.

“And I think that’s something we all could get behind and be a part of history as we did in that event,” Sharper said.

Le’Dor Milteer, who sought a City Council seat in 2017 and was one of the organizers for last year’s Juneteenth celebration, said the community is diverse.

“Acknowledging diversity helps disparate negative stereotypes and personal bias about different groups. It recognizes and respects ways of being beyond our own,” she said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.