Albemarle County employees will now get a floating holiday instead of a paid holiday for Thomas Jefferson’s birthday on April 13.
The county’s Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved the change, which county staff said was related to customer service issues.
“This does not prevent the county from taking appropriate measures to recognize Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to the community,” County Executive Jeff Richardson said.
The county’s Human Resources Department staff members are almost all school division employees. HR employees can choose to follow the school administration holidays — which have not had Jefferson’s birthday as a paid holiday — or the local government holidays.
HR is near the front of the building, and employees often end up directing community members within the building, especially on the April 13 holiday.
Richardson said both last year and this year, HR employees observed people who came in the building and were trying to access county services. He said about 25 citizens came into the department and asked for help, and others were in the hallway.
“... Some were irritated, several were irate,” Richardson said. “We put notes on our doors three or four days in advance of the holiday to say, ‘We will be closed on this day.’ HR said they had people come in and ask, ‘Why will you be closed this Friday?’”
County staff members have been looking at this proposed change for about a year, he said. The board had to approve the list of holidays before the start of the next fiscal year.
“We were not aware of anything else that might be going on in the community on a parallel track,” Richardson said.
The Charlottesville City Council has also discussed replacing Jefferson’s birthday with Liberation and Freedom Day on March 3. Councilors are scheduled to vote on the proposed changes on July 1.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said that she thought the change was wonderful and that the complaints were not new.
“It solves a problem that I’ve been hearing about since I got on this board — since 2014 — and I really appreciate you taking the time to recognize Mr. Jefferson’s contributions to this community and that we will still be celebrating this birthday,” she said.
During general public comment, Craig Decker said this could be seen as a demotion of Jefferson’s legacy.
“I think this is a significant decision that many people aren’t thinking about the ramifications and I would hope that before eliminating it you would at least provide time for more input,” he said.
He said citizens and employees should be polled on the change and the board should “look before you undermine your brand.”
“You should at least get the staff to look at what the impacts of this might be, and unforeseen ones, like the removing of the statue, we saw how many unforeseen impacts that had,” Decker said, referring to the City Council voting to remove statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
The floating holiday will need to be used between Jan 1 and June 30 of next year. The board will also have to vote on a policy change at a later date.
The board also approved a resolution supporting Gov. Ralph Northam’s call for a special session on gun violence.
Earlier this month, Northam announced he will call the General Assembly back this summer “for the purpose of passing common sense public safety laws,” after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach. He later set July 9 as the date for a special session.
At the last board meeting, supervisors voted to hear a special resolution on the topic at Wednesday’s meeting.
During general public comment, area residents spoke both in favor and against the board’s resolution.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights organization, said he was against the resolution and said the special session was “more of a political thing.”
“Nothing he’s proposing would have made any difference to what happened in Virginia Beach, nor would it have even helped with Virginia Tech, none of that stuff,” he said.
Van Cleave said VCDL hopes to get legislation that would allow all county employees “who have permits to protect themselves.”
David Garth said he grew up hunting and is a gun owner, and that he supports new regulations.
“The problem is not guns, the problem is the people who have them and use them to kill other people,” he said.
He said the state can require background checks that work and can regulate the size of ammunition magazines.
Emil Groth said the “timing is strange” for the special session and encouraged the board to “not jump on the bandwagon.”
“We don’t need to do anything at this point,” he said.
He said this was “a political diversion” and that the government cannot control the people that are going to use weapons to hurt other people.
“It’s a cultural thing, it’s a moving away from God, so it’s a moral issue,” Croft said.
Debby Garth said her voice — and the voices of those who disagree with her — is not heard if they never let the discussion come to the floor. She supported the board’s resolution.
“We must talk if we’re going to be able to solve this problem,” she said.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said residents have felt intimidated by people open-carrying at public meetings.
“They are not able to participate in their local government because they’re afraid,” she said. “To me, if we are able to be successful to be able to have our buildings and our meetings where people don’t bring firearms, I think many, many citizens will be able to participate far better in their government than they are to date.”
Palmer said it would be refreshing to hear a full discussion.
“I think that that is well worth a resolution to support that effort,” she said.
“And I hope that really takes place,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said.
“I hope it takes place, too,” Palmer replied.
Supervisor Rick Randolph addressed some comments about why the governor called a special session.
“How many people have to die to justify government acting with gun violence?” he asked.