WASHINGTON – The 38 employees of Delmar will get Martin Luther King Day off this year, the first time the holiday will be observed in the small town that straddles the Maryland-Delaware line.
King Day was chosen over Presidents Day, Columbus Day and other holidays in voting by the town’s workers, who select which 10 paid holidays they receive in a year.
“It was a very close choice this year between Veteran’s Day and Martin Luther King Day,” said Town Manager Roberta Glenn. “With only 10 holidays per year, there’s not a lot to go around.”
All but a handful of Maryland municipalities now celebrate King Day, which is also observed by the state and all 24 of its jurisdictions. Unlike Virginia, which just last week began the process to institute a state holiday solely for King, Maryland has observed the day since 1974.
Besides Delmar, Maryland public schools for the first time this year will be required to observe the holiday. Most were already doing so, but the legislature voted last year to require that school districts give the day off after Carroll County school officials considered keeping students in class.
“The bill was drafted to prevent any school jurisdiction from tampering with the way the Dr. King holiday is celebrated,” said state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, D-Baltimore and a co-sponsor of the bill. “The black caucus wanted students to have the day off and celebrate it in their own way.”
Carroll County schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said that some board members felt students would be better served staying in school, where they could learn about King. The decision was reversed after negative community reaction, she said.
“We have a low minority population here and the board wanted students in school and not out in the mall,” Gaddis said. “The board was trying to juggle the calendar to get enough snow days, as there’s only so many days you can take off.”
But the King holiday will not be observed in Leonardtown, Mount Airy or Elkton, three of about 10 towns in the state that are not giving their employees the day off. An exact count is difficult because some town governments are so small that officials could not be reached.
Leonardtown Town Administrator Robin Guyther said the King holiday was observed until 1994, when the town council removed it as a cost-cutting measure.
“We had about three council members who decided that the city’s employees were overpaid and they did it to save money,” he said. “Today we’re still living with that legacy.”
Guyther said reinstituting the holiday has been talked about, but no formal action has been taken. “Personally, I’d like to see it done and I’ve tried to get the council to change it,” he said.
While Glenn attributes Delmar’s decision to a changing work force, Frostburg Mayor John Bambacus said there were practical reasons behind his town’s recent decision to mark the holiday.
“The mayor and council decided to give (an) incentive to our employees,” so they boosted the number of paid holidays from eight to 10, Bambacus said. King Day and Presidents Day were chosen because they filled the long holiday- free stretch between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day.
Bladensburg Town Administrator Roylene Roberts said the council adopted the King holiday this month to respect the town’s population and location in diverse Prince George’s County.
“There was always a lot of talk about observing [King’s] work,” she said. “We always gave employees a floating holiday so they could the day off if the wanted, but now we’re able to offer both.
“Frankly, I’m happy to say that we will be observing it this year,” Roberts said. “It’s been a long time.”