PUTNAM COUNTY — On Thursday, June 17, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, recognizing the anniversary of the day slaves in the State of Texas were proclaimed free, and creating a new federal holiday.
“You know, today, we consecrate Juneteenth for what it ought to be, what it must be: a national holiday,” President Biden said when signing the act.
Also on Thursday, June 17, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine followed suit, proclaiming June 19 a holiday within the State of Ohio.
“Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States,” Governor DeWine said. “Today, President Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth, June 19th, a federal holiday. This action by the president also makes Juneteenth a state holiday, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code §124.19, which defines state holidays as including ‘any day appointed and recommended by the governor of this state or the president of the United States.’”
On Tuesday, June 22, during their first full meeting since the signing of the act, the Putnam County Board of Commissioners — Michael Lammers, John Schlumbohm, and Vincent Schroeder — met and discussed the matter. However, rather than debating when to commemorate the holiday in 2021, their discussions centered around their obligation; whether or not observance was legally required.



As part of their deliberations, the commissioners called on Prosecuting Attorney Gary Lammers.
“I was requested by the commissioners, asking for my legal opinion on what the legal requirements are for the county to observe this new holiday,” Lammers said. “What holidays do we have to observe, and are we mandated by the president’s signature on the act, and the governor’s order?”
According to Lammers, Ohio’s political subdivisions — counties, townships, and municipalities — are governed by Ohio Revised Code, and specifically Ohio Revised Code §325.19, as it relates to observed holidays. At present, there are 10 observed holidays listed within that chapter of the Revised Code. This newest holiday, Juneteenth, is not presently included.
“As of this present moment, the Ohio legislature hasn’t amended that section of law,” Lammers said Monday morning.”It doesn’t mean the commissioners cannot pass a resolution to recognize that holiday. No, they’re not mandated, but they still have authority to do so, if they so choose. It’s clear they could do it if they wanted to. It’s just that they’re not mandated by statute to do it.”
And the commissioners have done so; passed a resolution creating a paid holiday.
“Good Friday is not a named holiday under the Revised Code, but they still close the county offices at noon on Good Friday,” Lammers said. “They awarded that holiday.”
As have other boards of commissioners, in the past and presently. Of the seven counties bordering on Putnam — Allen, Defiance, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Paulding, and Van Wert — the boards of commissioners governing each have chosen to observe Juneteenth. In Allen, as with the state and federal governments, the action was put in place immediately, and the county observed the holiday on June 18. For the remaining six, the holiday this year will be observed on various future dates, with some choosing this coming Friday, another Nov. 12, and the remainder establishing a floating holiday.
In Putnam County, however, no such action was taken. In fact, the matter appears to remain in limbo, as the board of commissioners has taken no official stance whatsoever, other than to reiterate Lammer’s finding as it was expressed to them.
“We go by the Ohio Revised Code,” Commissioner Schroeder said. “That’s the bottom line. We have always gone by the Ohio Revised Code. We go by the law here. That’s how we make decisions. It’s got to be state law.”
And, as of late Monday, it is. In passing the state budget, the Ohio General Assembly also approved an amendment  creating the new Juneteenth holiday.
Still, Putnam County’s Board of Commissioners remains hesitant.
“We have received no direction from the Statehouse,” Commissioner Lammers said. “We’ll have to discuss this with our prosecuting attorney.”