Sandy Springs added a floating holiday for its staff in recognition of two federal holidays the city does not observe, Juneteenth and Veterans Day.

City Council had deferred adopting its 2023 holiday calendar during its Nov. 15 meeting to give time to consider adding Juneteenth, which marks the emancipation of African American slaves on June 19.

Human Resources Director Jennifer Emery said the city had 10 holidays on its schedule and offered two options to consider.

“As you’ll notice both options include working with the community to create an annual Juneteenth event celebration,” she said. “How that would look would come from the input from the community.”

The first option was to add a floating holiday, giving it to staff on Jan. 1 and requiring its use by Dec. 31. The second option was to leave the calendar with 10 holidays.

Council was told at its Nov. 15 meeting that each holiday costs the city $210,000 in overtime pay.

City Councilmember John Paulson said Veterans Day used to be a day off and staff who had to work were paid overtime. City Hall was closed. But now it remains open and isn’t a paid holiday. Instead, an event is held in commemoration that staff and the community can attend.

Paulson said he saw a lot of parallels between Veterans Day and Juneteenth holidays because the city will remain open, and an event will be held that staff can attend.

“One of the nice things about floating holidays as opposed to fixed holidays when the city is closed is our police and fire can’t take fixed holidays off when the city closes,” he said.

Making it a floating holiday gives everybody the potential to use that holiday throughout the year for whatever is important to them, whether it’s Juneteenth or some other day, Paulson said.

Councilmember Melody Kelley, who had asked fellow council members to consider adopting Juneteenth as a holiday, said the city needs to consider if the $2.1 million spent on overtime pay for the 10 existing holidays is being put to its best use.

Of Georgia’s 15 largest cities, 80% of them observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday, she said. And 73% of the cities surrounding Sandy Springs observe it as an official holiday. That calls into question whether the city is being competitive for workers, she said.

The 1860 tax digest for the area of Fulton County that became Sandy Springs included 34 slaves, Kelley said as she illustrated slavery’s history in the area.

“I’m going to say this plainly, in my view, the city of Sandy Springs should be closed on June 19. If you can’t go to the post office for mail, the DMV for your tags, the bank for your money, why should you be able to come to Sandy Springs to renew your business license?” she said.

Earlier in the meeting during public comment, resident Corey Waller said in regard to the budget, the cornerstone of the economy in the south is based on the slave labor of his ancestors. Many martyrs were lost as the nation got rid of that vicious form of chattel slavery, he said.

“So when it comes to the cost of the event of the holiday, I would like for the City Council to consider that debt paid in full due to the sacrifices of my great-great-great-grandparents and to the martyrs that died for the cause,” Waller said.

North Fulton NAACP President Kay Howell said the ancestors of about 20% of the city were given their freedom.

“This community gives thanks ahead of time for your consideration and a vote for a floating holiday. It is a good first step, but there is and will be more work to do,” she said. “Both the North Fulton NAACP and the Georgia NAACP pledge a partnership in planning the next Juneteenth event here in the city.”

She also asked the city to manage its budget so that talks can continue to move toward Juneteenth becoming a paid holiday for city employees.

Bob Pepalis

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