RACINE — The third Monday of January, better known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has moved one step closer to becoming an official City of Racine holiday. Although making that designation could necessitate some changes to how city employees receive their vacation time.
The impetus for this proposal, Mayor Cory Mason said, was several aldermen asking, “Why is this not an official city holiday?”
Although the proposal has support from the majority of the City Council, some questions have been raised about the economic and workforce impact another holiday would have on city functions.
The City of Racine Finance and Personnel Committee unanimously recommended approval of the proposal Tuesday night, The City Attorney’s Office has been tasked with drafting a resolution that could add King Day to the city’s list of holidays.
“There’s really no fiscal reason that we haven’t been doing it,” Mason said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think it would be a bigger question of how seriously we take King and his legacies, and the seriousness with which we want to address inequities in our own time.”
Eleven plus one
If the proposed resolution is approved by the City Council, which it could be within the next two-and-a-half weeks, then there would be 11 total designated city holidays, in addition to a “floating holiday” that can be used at any time, City Attorney Scott Letteney explained.
“It would be nice, symbolically, if we can get (the resolution approved) within the month of February and Black History Month,” Mason said.
Although Martin Luther King Jr. Day is already considered a federal holiday, city employees are still asked to work that day.
If King Day becomes a city holiday, then only essential staff — such as emergency responders — would be required to work, while the vast majority of employees would get the day off.
City Finance Director David Brown pointed out that if there is a significant snowfall or some other form of inclement weather, as is common in mid-late January, then many Department of Public Works employees would be called in to work too, in which case they will be paid double-time.
Giving workers the day off will likely not lead to a fiscal loss for the City of Racine, Brown added.
“Actual dollars out the door would not be affected by this,” he said. “The lost productivity of the employees, that’s where the true cost is.”
Support and questions
Eleven of the city’s 15 aldermen are listed as sponsors of the proposal. District 12 Alderman Henry Perez is one of them.
“The statement that’s being made by doing this is dramatic enough that we need to consider its effect on our community,” Perez said. “It may cost us some money, but it’s important that we show the support to all aspects and all members of our community … we need to look beyond the minutia of the exchange of the finances, which would be minimal from what I’m hearing, to recognize the significance of saying ‘Yes, we are honoring this particular holiday for our community.’ ”
Sixth District Alderman Sandy Weidner shared concerns about how another holiday would affect time off for city workers. She wonders if other city leaders have not considered the implications of another vacation day.
“There is a loss of productivity, but there is also a consequence to services,” she said. “My concern is it’s going to make a difference for trash pickup for two weeks following.”
Weidner also raised the concern of creating one extra holiday for city workers — raising the total from 11 to 12, in addition to vacation time — and wanted to know if that was something the other aldermen were actually OK with.
“Would it be appropriate to consider eliminating the floating holiday in lieu of declaring ML King Day a holiday?” Weidner asked.
Eighth District Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II, the chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee, said that question should be addressed “as a separate conversation,” since he said it wasn’t directly relevant to Tuesday’s agenda item.
“Once you give employees an additional holiday, you’re not going to be able to take it away,” Weidner said.
The committee voted to approve the measure anyway. Weidner is not a member of the Finance and Personnel Committee, but attended the meeting as an observer.