The Hennepin County Board is considering making Juneteenth, marking the end of slavery in the United States, a paid holiday for its nearly 9,000 employees.
Commissioner Debbie Goettel, one of the measure’s three sponsors along with Angela Conley and Marion Greene, said her research found that many counties, cities and businesses across the United States already offer June 19 as a paid holiday.
“There are lots of ways to celebrate our country year-round, such as July 4,” Conley said. “But you have to realize there were people who weren’t free or independent on July 4 . Maybe other cities will see our lead and think they can do it too. It’s a time to honor all of us in the community.”
Other commissioners balked at the potential $2 million price tag for adding another paid holiday.
After lengthy debate, the board decided to delay a vote on the issue until its next meeting in two weeks.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that Texas slaves found out they were free following the end of the Civil War.
Hennepin County employees currently receive 11 paid holidays, one of which was moved from Columbus Day to the day after Thanksgiving.
Commissioners Jan Callison and Jeff Johnson said they had no issue with people celebrating Juneteenth. But Callison said spending $2 million at a time when the county is holding the line on expenses “is going against the stream.”
In other action Tuesday, the board approved $1.2 million in federal money to establish an affordable housing stabilization fund to prevent evictions and mortgage foreclosures due to COVID-19.
The board also voted to spend $3.5 million to buy and remodel a building at 2012 S. Cedar Av., Minneapolis, as a long-term homeless shelter. The county will work on the project with the American Indian Community Development Corp.
As a cost-cutting measure, the board voted not to fill 66 vacant library positions, which will save $2.3 million this year.
The positions were vacant before the pandemic hit in March.
Nine libraries will remain closed this year.
The board also decided to take more time to consider revising the county’s nondiscrimination workplace policy to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected classes.