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Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin halts Juneteenth Holiday with veto


The Juneteenth Holiday was the lone item left on the agenda after hours of other business was discussed at the Marietta City Council meeting. The members voted 4 – 3 to support the holiday, which was championed by Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson. Councilman Joseph Goldstein joined the council’s three Black members — Richardson, M. Carlyle Kent, and Andre Sims — in voting yes.

The white Council members, Grif Chalfant, Johnny Walker, and Andy Morris, voted against the holiday. The most vocal opponent, Chalfant, wanted the city to instead recognize Veterans Day.

Those in attendance to support the vote were jubilant after the vote but were soon robbed of the celebration when to their chagrin and disappointment, Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin stepped into it when he vetoed the paid staff holiday for Juneteenth that the council just passed. His veto stopped the proposal dead in its tracks during Wednesday night’s City Council meeting. In protest, Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson left the meeting while members of the NAACP were angered by Tumlin’s move. 

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

After hitting the veto button, Tumlin said he was in favor of “looking at both of them,” referring to Juneteenth and Veterans Day.

The majority attempted to override the veto but needed five votes. The council split along the same lines, and the override failed.

“I will just say that this day will go down in the history of Marietta,” Richardson said, before standing up and leaving the meeting.

For over 15 years, an annual Juneteenth festival has been held by the NAACP each year on the Marietta Square. In the past, Tumlin has called the event a “wonderful celebration,” but interjected that  Veterans Day is “multiple times more inclusive because “everybody has veterans in their family.” His tone-deaf comment struck a nerve with many who point to his insensitivity regarding slavery and what Juneteenth represents. The celebration commemorates the ending of slavery in the U.S. in 1865. It is recognized by the federal government, the state of Georgia, and Cobb County as a holiday, which makes Tumlin’s veto even more troubling for Blacks and others who see his act as destructive. 

The City of Marietta currently provides 10 paid holidays for employees: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “Spring Day” (the city’s secular term for Good Friday), Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after, Christmas Eve and Christmas.

City Manager Bill Bruton said that adding another paid holiday for city workers would cost somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $55,000. 

Richardson said, “Before us today is the question of, does this city recognize the importance of Juneteenth as an ending date to a horrible time in our history and recognize it as a day of celebration as the ending of slavery?” Several speakers took to the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting to express their distraction with Tumilin’s veto. One said he was ashamed of Marietta. NAACP member Sally Riddle said that if Veterans Day were that important, a council member could have easily added it to the agenda. Another speaker talked about being called racial slurs when she was a child in school, growing up in Marietta. “I want to believe that the city that I was born in, I have lived in and that I have also loved, loves me and my community,” she said. “The thought that there is anybody on this council that thinks it should even be a question is disheartening. It shows a lack of solidarity, it shows a lack of inclusion, and my prayer is that you who voted tonight will go home and examine your own hearts.”

Tumlin tried to use Dobbins Air Reserve Base and Lockheed Martin as a reason to justify his veto. After hearing it from all sides about his veto, the Mayor had had enough. By Friday, Tumlin said he wanted the City Council to hold a special meeting to consider adding Juneteenth and Veterans Day as paid holidays for city staff. Tumlin wrote in a letter he sent to the MDJ saying, “The mayor’s office is planning to have a Special Called Meeting on aligning our city holidays with the state and federal in recognition of Juneteenth and Veterans Day and the additional benefit of budging (sic) two additional holidays for our valued Marietta service providers.”

Cobb NAACP President Jeriene Bonner Grimes told the MDJ Friday, “We’ve worked together on a lot of things. That’s why all this has come as quite a shock. He’s been a definite supporter of Juneteenth, so it’s interesting that we’re even at this juncture about this.”Tumlin called his veto  a “pause in the process of considering a very important matter.”

Grimes said she’d love to see Juneteenth become a paid holiday for city staff. But the two holidays never needed to be linked.


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