South Miami Rejects "Fiscally Irresponsible" Argument, Declares Juneteenth a Paid Holiday

Juneteenth will now be a paid day off for city employees in South Miami.
Juneteenth will now be a paid day off for city employees in South Miami.
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Next month, many businesses and city governments across the nation will give their employees time off in commemoration of Juneteenth, the annual June 19 holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S.

This year, those workplaces will include the municipal government of South Miami, a city where 13 percent of residents are Black, 55 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 25 percent are white. On Tuesday, the city commission voted 4 to 1 to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for its workers.

"I think it is an important holiday to be paid," Mayor Sally Philips said during the commission meeting vote. "I think it deserves the respect of the other holidays that our country celebrates."

The lone holdout: Commissioner Josh Liebman, who lamented the cost to the city. Liebman, a real estate agent who has served on the commission since 2012, said city employees already receive ten paid national holidays, two to four weeks of vacation, two weeks of sick time, and a handful of city holidays or half-days each year.

"We have to be very careful about paid-day-off creep," he said at the meeting.

Juneteenth has become more widely recognized as a holiday in recent decades, although a number of companies and local and state governments began to designate June 19 as a holiday after the racial-justice protests that emerged last summer following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Miami-Dade made Juneteenth a paid holiday for county workers in October, and the City of North Miami Beach did so last month.

In South Miami, commissioners were scheduled to vote on the matter at a meeting April 22, but Liebman made a motion to defer the item after arguing that adding a new paid holiday to the city schedule was "absolutely fiscally irresponsible."

"I'm certainly sympathetic to the cause but not at the expense of the budget," he said at the time.

Commissioners agreed to defer the item, moving the discussion to their May 4 meeting.

On Tuesday, Liebman again invoked the city's budget, saying that while the holiday should be recognized, he believed Juneteenth ought to be designated as a floating holiday or a flex holiday that employees could take in exchange for another paid day off, such as Columbus Day, which South Miami already recognizes.

How much will the paid holiday actually cost South Miami? According to City Manager Shari Kamali, city police officers who work on Juneteenth would receive overtime for the holiday, at a cost of $9,328 to the city. Kamali said the rest of the workforce is salaried, so while there is no additional expense that would need to be budgeted for, the total cost of the lost day of work would be about $55,000.

Liebman noted that as salaries rise, the cost to the city will increase.

"It's inflationary, and there's a loss of production," he said.

In both meetings, Liebman clashed with Mayor Philips, who has championed making Juneteenth a paid holiday.

"I'm sorry that you're not as concerned with the budget, Madam Mayor, but we should all be held accountable and we should treat the budget like it's our own," he chided her at the April 22 meeting.

But Philips argued that city employees deserve the day off.

"I think that less than $10,000 in overtime for the police department, I think this holiday deserves it," she said Tuesday.

The rest of the commission agreed, with all but Liebman voting to give employees the holiday as paid time off.

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