BRATTLEBORO -- It happens every year.
As customers walk into Nancy Braus' book store, Everyone's Books, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and ask if they have to feed the parking meters, Braus bristles at the answer she has to give.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a state and federal holiday, but the town of Brattleboro does not recognize it. All Brattleboro employees, including the meter maids, work on the third Monday of January.
So when out-of-state and local customers ask about the parking meters, Braus has to tell them that one of the most progressive towns, in one of the most progressive states, does not recognize the holiday named in honor of the country's most important civil rights leader.
"I am mortified to have to tell my customers that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not recognized by the town of Brattleboro," Braus said. "People from out of town can't believe it."
Everyone's Books bills itself as a store specializing in books about social change, the environment and multicultural children's issues, and it is not uncommon for Braus to share conversations in her store about such topics.
But this year, after again having to talk about the prominent place Martin Luther King Jr. should play in her town, state and country, Braus said she decided to do something. Braus is asking the Selectboard to consider formally recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a town holiday and the board has asked interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland to look into some of the options the town has.
"Every year I tell myself that we have to deal with this, and this year I decided it was time to do something," Braus said. "We need to deal with the fact that as a town, we are not recognizing how important Martin Luther King Jr. was. It is just so wrong on so many levels."
Braus came before the Selectboard at its meeting last week, which gave Moreland six to 10 weeks to report back. At the meeting last Tuesday the board appeared willing to at least look into making the change.
"The board expressed some general favor into having the town observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day and they want to review what the implementation might look like," Moreland said Tuesday. "The list of holidays approved by the town has not changed in many years, but it is in their power to make that change."
The recognized town holidays do coincide, loosely, with the days the town's unionized employees get off. Moreland said he is going to have to do more research to find out when the various union contracts are next up for negotiating, how much it might cost the town to introduce a new town holiday, or whether one of the existing holidays might be dropped from the list of paid days off in exchange for recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Every year the Vermont League of Cities and Towns asks municipalities in the state about the holidays they observe. According to Abby Friedman, director of the VLCT Municipal Assistance Center, 131 out of 273 municipalities responded last year, and out of those responses, 39 said they did recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a town or city holiday.
One option Brattleboro has is to recognize the holiday and not enforce parking meters, but not give Town Hall, and other employees the day off.
Braus, however, said the issue extends beyond just whether drivers have to drop a quarter in the parking meter on MLK Day.
Braus said the national holiday is a recognition of how America has changed, and how the accomplishments of non-white Americans are as important as those of the country's Founding Fathers.
"This country is made up people from many cultures. We have holidays that recognize those who have fought in wars and Martin Luther King was fighting for other people's lives. He was fighting a different kind of fight," Braus said. "Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for justice and we don't have another holiday that recognizes the fight for justice. I think if you asked most people in Brattleboro they would tell you it was the right thing to do."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.