KINGWOOD — The surprise declaration that the state will observe Juneteenth on June 17 has thrown a wrench into county governance.
“Our job is to serve the public and if we’re not there to serve them, how can we? How are we going to serve? That’s what our job is,” Preston County Commissioner Don Smith said.
The order by Justice means court dates will need to be rescheduled and county offices such as the tax office will be closed. County Coordinator Joe Hauger brought the governor’s announcement up during his report at the regular Preston County Commission meeting on Tuesday.
The consensus among county commissioners, as Smith understood it, was that Juneteenth and West Virginia Day would be recognized with a combined day off. He thought it was a good plan.
Smith also raised issues with the last-minute nature of the declaration. What about the guy that planned to take the Friday off and come pay his taxes, he asked.
“He made sure he had his doctor’s appointment, dentist appointment and so he could pay his taxes on the same day. I used to do that,” Smith said. “I used to set stuff up so I could do multiple things in one day.”
In a rural county like Preston, with gas prices being what they are, that’s a consideration.
The news was not a surprise. Commissioner Dave Price said there was talk leading up to it and Hauger said it was anticipated.
The time around Juneteenth and West Virginia Day may regularly become a four-day weekend in future years, Hauger said.
Juneteenth is a federal holiday recognizing the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans in Texas — the last confederate state with slavery. On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas that enslaved people in Texas were free by federal law.
The holiday has been celebrated in some form or another since then but on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden made the anniversary of that freedom a federal holiday.
That same day, Justice announced state employees would be off on June 18, a Friday, to celebrate the holiday which landed on a Saturday. This year, Juneteenth is on a Sunday and Monday is already a state holiday with West Virginia Day.
Price said it’s something for the next commission to think about.
“The reason we did the follow the governor’s and state holidays is that everybody knew what holidays they had. “You know, we didn’t have to have that discussion,” Price said. “But the next commission can decide, beginning of the year, maybe they don’t want to follow it.”