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Juneteenth isn’t a Tampa city holiday. Should it be?

City Council member Orlando Gudes says he’s disappointed Mayor Jane Castor hasn’t acted yet, making Tampa the only major bay area city not to.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes is seen during a council meeting Thursday, March 31, 2022 in Tampa.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes is seen during a council meeting Thursday, March 31, 2022 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Jul. 14|Updated Jul. 15

TAMPA — It’s been a little more than a year since President Joe Biden signed legislation declaring a federal holiday for Juneteenth — a celebration commemorating when Texas slaves learned of their freedom after the Civil War.

It’s time for Mayor Jane Castor to do the same thing in Florida’s third-largest city, said City Council member Orlando Gudes at a board meeting Thursday morning.

“I don’t know any other race that has been oppressed more than our people,” said Gudes, who is Black. “I have a real problem with these not being a holiday. I have a problem with that.”

By the end of the day, the administration said it had heard the message.

Tampa is the only major city in the bay area not to have designated Juneteenth a holiday.

In the council’s session, John Bennett, Castor’s chief of staff, cited the cost of shutting the city down as one reason for not doing so. And the city’s chief diversity officer, Ocea Wynn, said union negotiations revealed that many workers preferred a floating holiday celebrating diversity and inclusion, especially those that have to work cleaning up after the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

“We felt like this would be in the best interests of all,” said Wynn, who is Black.

The city has 11 paid employee holidays. It has 4,800 workers, 3,800 of them union members.

The mayor’s office said the cost to shut down the city for a day is $1.3 million, with the police union costing $445,000, the firefighters union $315,000 and the general workers union $580,000. Those figures exclude nonunion employees, according to Adam Smith, Castor’s spokesperson.

But Bennett struck a different tone on a return to the council chambers after a lunch break, He said the administration is willing to consider the idea and confirmed the mayor could make it happen by executive order.

“We’re always responsive to council. We listen,” he said.

He also repeated the caveat that city union members have expressed greater support for the floating “diversity, equity and inclusion” holiday.

Gudes said he stood by his morning comments. And council member Lynn Hurtak added her take.

“We’re talking about a day when people no longer belonged to other people,” Hurtak said. “We didn’t learn about this as children. I think we owe it for everyone. It wasn’t that long ago.”

The council unanimously approved a request for Castor to include considering making Juneteenth a city holiday during the budget process.

Bennett said there was still a chance for Castor to issue an executive order during the upcoming budget process if she adopts the council’s request. Castor is scheduled to present her budget to the council in the coming weeks.

“The budget isn’t settled; that’s exactly why I’m here,” Bennett said.

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Editor’s Note: The $1.3 million cost to shut city down for a holiday excludes the city’s nonunion employees. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on that point.

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