When part of the community observes a holiday and another part does not, one predictable result is confusion.
Confusion is what happened Jan. 16, when the District of Columbia government marked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, but the federal government and most private employers did not.
Perhaps the most confused - and outraged - were those who were led to believe that King's birthday was a full-fledged holiday, and were given parking or traffic tickets as if it were an ordinary non-holiday weekday.
City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) came to their rescue, writing that city's legal office with a demand that charges be dropped. Acting Corporation Counsel Louis P. Robbins promptly ordered the voiding of all questionable tickets.
"A little legal equity never hurt nobody," Robbins quipped later, with a grin.
Following the episode, Mayor Walter E. Washington told Robbins to make sure the problem doesn't happen again.
The legal problem of the King's Birthday observance, according to a detailed legal opinion written by James E. Lemert, acting deputy corporation counsel, stemmed from a jurisdictional split between the federal and District governments.
When it granted the District the limited home rule that went into effect in 1975, Congress kept for itself the power to declare official holidays like Christmas and Independence Day. Congress apparently didn't want anybody else - let alone the City Council - telling the federal government when it should give its workers the day off.
Congressional legislation making King's Birthday a national holiday has been introduced, but has never been enacted.
Under home rule, Lemert said, Congress did empower the mayor and the City Council to grant leave with pay to District of Columbia employees - provided, however, that the mayor must issue an order each time such a holiday is being observed.
With King's actual brithday falling on Jan. 15, a Sunday, the mayor declared the following day to be a D.C. government holiday. The school system already had taken a similar step on its own.
In announcing the mayor's holiday order on Jan. 4, the city's public affairs office said traffic rules for the day would be detailed later.
Since more than a half million commuters would be swarming into the city in normal weekday fashion, the rules were to be similar to those on a normal weekday, altered only enough to ease parking restrictions near public observances of King's Birthday.
Because of a lapse in communication - due in part to the tear gas explosion in the building that houses D.C. police headquarters - an inaccurate announcement was made by a police spokesman. Mototrists were told erroneously that holiday rules would be in effect on Jan. 16, with no tickets to be issued for parking on arterials in rush hours or for failing to put coins in parking meters.
A later and accurate announcement by the mayor's office got little or no publicity.
So when police began issuing tickets in normal weekday fashion on Jan. 16, some who were cited were outraged, and complaints began to reach Clarke. He wrote his letter.
Robbins, the official who decided to void the tickets, emphasized that only tickets issued for violations of so-called Monday-through-Friday traffic laws will be voided. Such violations as parking too close to an intersection or next to a fireplug will be enforced.
Clarke said he was only partly satisfied with the response by Robbins. He said the city should intentionally lift all parking and traffic restrictions on King's Birthday in every year to presure Congress into adopting a national observance of the event.