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Staff file photo / Chattanooga City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod asks questions about the 10-year plan for public art during a meeting in the City Council Assembly Room on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Chattanooga City Council celebrated inclusion twice on Tuesday, making Juneteenth an official paid city holiday and welcoming Chattanooga's first female city attorney.

A yearlong effort by one councilwoman came to fruition during the regular meeting of the council, when the group established Juneteenth Independence Day as a citywide holiday.

The holiday, celebrating Black Americans' freedom from slavery, is celebrated every year on June 19, marking the date in 1865 when enslaved Texans were told by Union soldiers that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod introduced the ordinance, which passed unanimously on final reading late Tuesday. She said the decision was valuable for city progress.

"I'm excited that it finally passed because we've been working on it as a council prior to the pandemic, and it got out on the shelf, but now feels like the right time," Coonrod, who has rallied for the change for more than a year, said after the meeting.

"I think it's a move in the right direction to right our wrongs in Chattanooga," she said. "It's joyous because that's the only inclusive holiday that we have in the city now."

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a proclamation last summer recognizing Juneteenth as a statewide cultural holiday.

This is the 12th paid city holiday, along with New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, the Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Attorney Emily O'Donnell speaks in support of Tim Kelly during a rally at City Hall in Chattanooga on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

The city also celebrated inclusion during the council meeting by honoring Emily O'Donnell, who was appointed by Mayor Tim Kelly as the first female city attorney, the city's top legal counsel.

"Folks, that was the sound of the glass ceiling shattering as Ms. O'Donnell becomes the first female city attorney," Chairman Chip Henderson said, interrupted by loud applause, after the council confirmed her appointment.

O'Donnell's experience includes providing legal services across the Chattanooga region, from assisting victims of the 2013 Patten Towers fire to litigating in General Sessions, Juvenile, Circuit and Chancery Courts. She litigated at the Tennessee Court of Appeals as an attorney for Legal Aid and served as vice president of external relations for the Public Education Foundation. She also was executive director of the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga.

O'Donnell was appointed by Kelly last month to replace City Attorney Phil Noblett, who will now serve as an assistant city attorney.

"Thank you to the city council and Mayor Kelly for giving me the opportunity to serve you in this way. It is the highest honor," O'Donnell said to the council. "Thank you to Phil Noblett for staying with me to show me what I don't know, and for also delivering this office to me in very, very good condition."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at some text

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Attorney Emily O'Donnell speaks in support of Tim Kelly during a rally at City Hall in Chattanooga on Thursday, March 11, 2021.
">staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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