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Juneteenth may soon become a paid holiday for Jacksonville city workers

Ray Troncoso
Reggie Gaffney sponsored the legislation making Juneteenth a paid holiday for city workers.

Juneteenth, the federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States, may soon become a paid day off for Jacksonville city employees.

An ordinance establishing Juneteenth as city employees' 13th paid holiday could get a vote from the full City Council as early as next week. The council's Finance Committee approved it last month and the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Juneteenth — short for June 19th — marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 17 this year.

"Staff that works for the city of Jacksonville kept asking me, 'Councilman Gaffney, we deserve this holiday'" bill sponsor Councilman Reggie Gaffney said as he introduced the ordinance to the committee. "I know we've got some concerns about the cost of this, but is Jacksonville gonna be a city that's gonna move forward, I think it's an appropriate time for us to show leadership in America. I think it's a very important day for me, not just the staff who works for the city, for me, and I just ask that y'all support it."

The vote was 6-2, with committee members Rory Diamond and Randy DeFoor voting against the measure and Councilman Sam Newby, who is not a member of the Rules Committee, invoking his powers as council president to vote for the measure.

Diamond said he supported making Juneteenth a paid holiday for law enforcement and first responders but opposed the ordinance due to its cost. He said it could cost the city millions for every city worker to get the day off.

Councilman Garrett Dennis suggested balancing the cost by substituting Juneteenth for a free-floating paid holiday that all city workers have. That idea was shot down by the Brain Hughes, chief administrative officer for Mayor Lenny Curry's office, who told the committee the discretionary paid holiday was enshrined in city employee's contracts during recent negotiations between their unions and the city.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.