Category Archives: What You Can Do

It’s Not Over: The Future of Our History Is At Stake

The last two weeks have been filled with emotional conversation about the Georgia Archives.

After Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s announcement that he would close the Archives to the public and terminate seven of the agency’s 10 employees, supporters around the state rallied, aided by media coverage and facilitated by the speed of social media and email.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s ironically-timed ceremony at which he proclaimed October as Archives Month gave him an opportune platform from which to announce that he would find funding to keep the Archives open. Supporters, predictably, were ecstatic.

There were no details, and since the proclamation, the governor has remained silent. The Secretary of State stands by his decision to close the Archives and terminate the employees. As a constitutional officer, Kemp has complete control over his department’s personnel.

Word quickly spread, and advocates breathed a sigh of relief: the governor stepped in and “saved the Archives.” The protest was successful, the crisis averted. Time to move on.

After the initial euphoria, however, thoughtful supporters have begun to realize that the announcement might not have been the news they had been hoping for.

Will the Governor use emergency funds to maintain Archives service at the current level – with 10 employees? Will the Archives remain open, but with only three employees? Will the Governor exempt the Archives from cuts in the coming year’s budget or reduce the amount of cuts? Depending on the answers, the Archives could close as planned on Nov. 1 and to re-open after the legislative session, possibly with three staffers or inexperienced new-hires.

The Archives currently is open only two days a week. Users could face even more inconvenient – potentially impossible – access to records, if staff is cut or the Archives closed. Secretary Kemp apparently believes that a system of appointments satisfies the state Open Meetings law, which mandates “reasonable” access. That is a matter for debate and perhaps for the courts.

The state-of-the-art facility in Morrow was designed for only one purpose: the careful preservation of millions documents and artifacts. Its staff has been trained to carry out that mission, as well as to assist the public.

The Georgia Archives is not just a resource for hobby genealogists and history buffs or the repository for evidence of our cultural history. Professionals from lawyers to watchdogs to authors to government officials rely on the records, often to aid Georgia citizens.

Access to records held at the Archives is vital to transparent government. Not having “reasonable” access to these records will prevent citizens from learning about what decisions were made, when and why.

All Georgia departments have been ordered by the Governor to cut another three percent from their budgets for the coming year. Of course, after several years of cuts, there are no easy choices. Secretary Kemp chose to take all $730,000 from the Archives, leaving other divisions untouched. This small amount is all that stands between closure and maintaining the current level of service.

If the Archives closes, Georgia will rank 50th among states in terms of access to the records that belong to its citizens. It will be the only Archives in the nation without public hours – a shameful statistic.

The governor, the secretary and the state legislature need to hear from Georgia citizens that this is not acceptable.

The struggle to keep the Archives open and the staff in place is not over.

Note: This article ran in the DeKalb Champion/Free Press newspaper on Friday, Oct. 5, as well as in other newspapers around the state.

Vivian Price Saffold

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The Fire Department and the Georgia Archives

Thought for the day:

How is the Fire Department like the Georgia Archives?

In case of a fire at your home or business, you dial 911. Fire-fighters arrive promptly with equipment to put out the fire. The Fire Department exists to protect people and property from unexpected catastrophe.

If you have a dispute over the title to your home, you call an attorney. That attorney researches deed records at the Georgia Archives. The Archives exists to protect the rights of people and property.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp wants to restrict public access to the Archives to appointments. He says this is justified because the Archives does not generate revenue.  The Fire Department does not generate revenue. Would you make an appointment for a fire-fighter?

If the budget of your local fire department were cut to the point that fire-fighters could not respond in timely fashion, citizens would demand funding.

Now is the time for citizens to demand that the governor and secretary of state work together to keep the Archives open.

Vivian Price Saffold

 

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Rally Draws Vocal Supporters

More than 100 passionate supporters heard several equally passionate speakers at Wednesday’s rally in support of the Georgia Archives.

Protestors outside the capitol called for the Archives to remain open, the employees to remain and Secretary of State Brian Kemp to be impeached.

Speakers inside the capitol added their voices., speakers, including former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr, University of Georgia history professor Jim Cobb, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society chairman Emma Davis-Hamilton, two state legislators, Sen. Gail Davenport from Clayton County and Rep. Debbie Buckner from Talbot County, and Morrow Mayor J. B. Burke

Former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr called the Secretary of State’s decision to close the Archive “short sighted” and questioned the legality of closing the facility. “Reasonable access” to the historical records, he said, “is not discretionary. It is mandatory… it essential to having a free people and an educated people.”

“The records do not belong to Brian Kemp or Nathan Deal,” Barr said, prompting loud applause and cheering. “They need to hear from us, politely and respectfully, but loud and clear, that this decision will not stand.”

Closing the Archives, with its historic documents dating back to 1733, said University of Georgia Professor Jim Cobb, “is like wrapping up the Hope diamond and putting it under the seat of my truck.”

The $730,000 needed to keep the Archives open with the current service level and employees, he pointed out, is less than half the operating budget of Go Fish, former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s much publicized “educational center” in Perry.

Prof. Cobb suggested that Georgia increase its cigarette tax to the national average, a move he said would raise $500 million. Or, he said sarcastically, the state could sell special license plates: “Historically ignorant, but a great place to smoke.”

Comparing the closing the Archives to the burning of courthouses by Union Gen. W. T. Sherman on his march through Georgia, Prof. Cobb said the state is “handing the keys to the Archives to old Billy Sherman.”

Emma Davis-Hamilton, chairman of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, grew up hearing stories about her ancestral home. “Georgia had a bad name,” she said. At the Georgia Archives she found records verifying that her ancestors had registered to vote and owned land shortly after the Civil War. The story of black Americans may not be in history books, she said, but it is in the Georgia Archives. “Don’t lock my history away again.”

Sen. Davenport spoke about the economic impact of the Archives on Morrow, Clayton County and the state of Georgia. She received a standing ovation when she declared that “on Oct. 31 no one should lose their jobs.”

Rep. Buckner agreed, adding that the start-up time for new employees would be more costly than keeping the current employees in place. She said she understands the dilemma caused by declining revenues, but keeping the Archives open “is not only the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced last month that the Georgia Archives would absorb the entire three percent budget cut required of his department. He also said that seven of the remaining 10 employees would be terminated.

Kaye Minchew, co-chairman of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, told the supporters that she hopes “we’re in good shape with the supplemental budget.” However, she added that she expects the Archives to close from November to mid-March.
Dianne Cannestra, chairman of the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, moderated the event.

Vivian Price Saffold

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Rally Reminder

The rally in support of the Georgia Archives and the seven terminated employees will be Wednesday, Oct. 3 beginning at noon in the rotunda of the state capitol.  Signs are not permitted in the capitol building. Signs will be allowed on the capitol grounds at the Washington Street (west) entrance. Please note that signs must be hand-held — no sticks or stakes. Please join the effort to keep the Archives open to the public.

 

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The Georgia Archives does matter

Welcome to the Georgia Archives Matters blog. The blog is part of a larger effort to support the Georgia Archives. Harnessing the power of people coming together for a common goal, we will make sure that Georgia’s historical records are properly preserved and made accessible to Georgia citizens.

For those of you who are new to this issue, a little background…

The Georgia Archives, created in 1918, is a division of the office of the Secretary of State. Its mission is to “serve state and local governments and the people of Georgia by identifying, selecting, preserving, and making accessible the records that constitute the state’s recorded history; by documenting state government decisions; and by aiding local government to meet open records requirements.” (Source: The New Georgia Encyclopedia)

While the agency was created in the early 10th century, state records have been collected since 1755. The official state seal, currently housed at the Archives, dates back to 1799.

For more information, visit the New Georgia Encyclopedia:

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2983&sug=y

From the Georgia Archives Web site:

Why we exist

  • We support legislators and state agencies by providing background information and context for proposed legislation and current issues.
  • We maintain records that protect your legal and property rights, as well as those of the state government and the counties.
  • We decrease the liability, and increase the efficiency, of state agencies through proper records management.

The award-winning, state-of-the-art Archives facility which opened in 2003 is located in Morrow, at the edge of the Clayton State University campus and adjacent to the National Archives-Southeast Region. This vital resource and its historical records and artifacts exist to educate, protect and support the people of Georgia.

As Georgia’s tax revenues have declined, so has the fate of the Archives. The facility suffered an 82 percent reduction in staff and went from being open to the public five days a week to two.

Earlier this year Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered all Georgia departments to reduce their budgets by three percent. On Sept. 13, Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that the Archives would close. Kemp chose to take the entire three percent cut mandated for his department from the Archives budget. He later announced the termination of seven of the remaining 10 staff members.

After a vigorous protest from the community, Gov. Deal responded, saying the state would find the money to keep the Archives open. Archives employees serve at the pleasure of the Secretary of State, so the governor’s announcement may not save the seven. The Georgia legislature has the final say over the state budget. The General Assembly session will begin in January. Citizens may not know until the end of the session the fate of the Archives.

Vivian Price Saffold, board member, Georgia Genealogical Society

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