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Gage County officials question Juneteenth holiday

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A federal holiday that was declared in June has some local government authorities rethinking their handbook policies.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states.

President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday on Thursday, June 17. Since June 19 fell on a Saturday, the government observed the holiday that Friday.

The local result was government offices shutting down with little notice. County Board member Terry Jurgens suggested removing Juneteenth from the county’s handbook, specifically citing issues that resulted from the road department being closed.

“At 3 p.m. people were notified, don’t come to work tomorrow,” he said. “There are projects being started down there expecting to be finished maybe on Friday and things being done. Stay open. I do not want county government becoming as inefficient as federal government. I do not want to follow their guidelines.”

Additionally, Jurgens suggested removing Columbus Day and Arbor day from the list of paid days off. Including Juneteenth, Gage County currently observes 13 holiday days each year.

County Attorney Roger Harris also expressed frustration that the holiday was implemented with little notice, but stressed the board should talk to elected officials from the different county departments before making a decision.

“Make sure you include elected officials in these discussions,” he said. “I understand Mr. Jurgens’ concerns about that. We were in the second day of a jury trial, so I understand what the road department is going through. The timing was absolutely atrocious… I would agree that was very unsatisfactory. If you are talking about the holidays, talk to your employees and make sure.”

Board Chairman Erich Tiemann added the board has already been considering a few other handbook changes, and will likely consider them all at a future meeting.

“There’s some other handbook updates, too,” Tiemann said. “I would anticipate us looking at those either the middle of July or end of July. If there’s any other handbook changes you want to look at that would be a good time for it.”

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