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Tue, Oct. 15

Local woman surprised city does not observe MLK Day

PRESCOTT – Unlike much of the rest of the state, the City of Prescott did not take a holiday last week for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

This year, as in previous years, Prescott City Hall opened its doors for business on the third Monday of January – the day that many around the nation commemorate as the birthday of the slain civil rights leader.

That has at least one Prescott resident concerned. And it has raised questions among Prescott City Council members about whether the city should join the nation in declaring a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Prescott resident Barbara Braswell appeared before the Prescott City Council Tuesday to protest the city's continued non-observance of the holiday.

Braswell, who said she has lived in Prescott for about two years, told the council she was surprised to find that the city did not observe the holiday.

"I think it is very important that Martin Luther King's birthday is observed," Braswell told the council.

She pointed out that the civil rights leader advocated a peaceful resolution to civil rights violations. "These things haven't gone away," Braswell said of the issues King supported. "I think it is very important that we, as a city, support (King's beliefs)."

But Mayor Sam Steiger pointed out that the city has traditionally not taken a day off for the holiday. "That was a decision that was reached after recognizing that every holiday represents a $78,000 impact on the city's budget," Steiger said.

City Manager Larry Asaro pointed out that $78,000 equals one day of payroll for the city.

In fact, it has been years since the City Council has officially considered the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. City records show that the council first discussed the matter back in 1987 – about the same time the state was embroiled in a controversy over the holiday.

Minutes from the Aug. 11, 1987, City Council meeting show that council members initially considered declaring Martin Luther King Jr./Civil Rights Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The council ultimately agreed, however, to celebrate the holiday on the third Sunday in January – the same day the state had designated under then-Gov. Evan Mecham. The City Council ended up taking no action, because the holiday would be the same day as the state's.

The next city action on the matter came in 1993, when the council approved a proclamation declaring Jan. 18, 1993, as Martin Luther King/ Civil Rights Day.

As far as city officials remember, however, the city never took the day off as a holiday.

Braswell pressed the council about what she could do to bring about a change in the city's policy.

"The council can change it," Steiger said. "This is something that ought to be a reflection of the community. My advice to you is to make your case to the council members, and get other people involved."

Several council members expressed surprise that the city did not take the day off as a holiday.

"I, personally, feel it is a bad reflection on the community itself," Councilman Lee Nidess said.

Around the county, communities' approaches to the King holiday are a mixed bag. Although Yavapai County takes the day off, the towns of Prescott Valley, Chino Valley and Clarkdale all remain open for business on the holiday. Cottonwood, Sedona and Jerome join the county in taking the day off. Most school districts also take a holiday for the King birthday.

Currently, Prescott city employees have nine paid holidays, including the Friday after Thanksgiving. In addition, city employees get one day of paid holiday for their birthdays.

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