At the same meeting where Council unanimously approved a resolution recognizing the history of Juneteenth and marking it as a holiday in the City – five days after President Joseph R. Biden signed it into federal law and three days after this year’s holiday – Mayor Aaron Stephens discussed how the holiday might be better honored here next year.
The resolution to recognize Juneteenth was passed as part of the Council’s consent agenda, which is meant to be voted on without any discussion. After recounting the struggles of enslaved peoples to gain freedom, the East Lansing resolution stated that Juneteenth “marks our country’s second Independence Day and is truly the day where all Americans could declare freedom,” and declared it a recognized holiday within the City.
Council members did not discuss the resolution itself, but Stephens made the unusual move of keeping it on the consent agenda while speaking at some length about the holiday. (Normally, if a Council member wants to discuss an item on the consent agenda, they move it to the business agenda.)
He acknowledged that the recognition of Juneteenth happened quickly on the national level. President Biden signed it into law on Thursday, June 17, and many federal employees did not have to report to work on Friday, June 18, since Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, fell on a weekend.
Stephens suggested that those who work for the City of East Lansing should be given a paid day off for Juneteenth in 2022. Stephens then informally polled other Council members to see if they were opposed to the idea. None indicated opposition.
Stephens also referenced a community member who inquired about parking tickets issued on Juneteenth (Saturday, June 19). That person was me, after ELi had been alerted by a reader that tickets had been issued for vehicles that remained in a two-hour parking zone for more than two hours, despite the signs saying that the restriction was not in effect on holidays.
When asked by Stephens what those who received similar tickets should do, City Manager George Lahanas directed people to fill out a form on the 54B District Court’s website for Online Traffic Ticket Review.
Stephens then called for the East Lansing Police Department to avoid such ticketing next year, and Council member Dana Watson further suggested that parking rules for Juneteenth should mimic those used on the Fourth of July, which could include free parking at meters and parking ramps. Lahanas said he would need to verify the specifics of the rules but agreed that rules for Juneteenth should be the same as those for Independence Day.
At its July 13 meeting, Council will discuss amending Ordinance 1502 to permit discharging fireworks on Juneteenth. Currently, the use of fireworks is restricted to other holidays, including New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. If the motion passes, fireworks will be allowed from midnight on June 19 to 1 a.m. on June 20.
At that meeting, Council will also vote on whether to enact some version of Ordinance 1503, which would establish an independent police oversight commission. At an East Lansing Juneteenth celebration hosted by the Pinecrest Neighborhood Association, the Racial Justice Task Force of Edgewood United Church passed out flyers connecting that draft law to the spirit of Juneteenth. The flyers encouraged people to support the establishment of the commission by calling or writing into Council, arguing that the commission’s establishment is important for promoting racial equity.