Keep Archives Open - Kemp closing door on Georgia’s rich history
September 19, 2012 12:00 AM | 3228 views | 6 6 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Georgia, as every schoolchild knows, was one of the original 13 Colonies, which if nothing else means it has one of the longest histories in the 50 states. It also unquestionably has one of the richest histories, considering the number of Civil War battles fought on its soil and the number of important figures with strong ties to this state, such as James Oglethorpe, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Sens. Richard B. Russell and Sam Nunn, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and entertainment figures such as James Brown, Little Richard, Ray Charles and The Allman Brothers. Consider as well the records and documents pertaining to the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who labored in the state’s cotton fields as slaves, and to those who owned them; and the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who served in the uniforms of this country and, in some cases, the Confederacy.

Yes, Georgia has a history as rich as that of any state in the country — but if you’re trying to research that history or your family’s history in the state archives, good luck. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose department oversees the archives, is closing the door in your face.

He announced last week that as of Nov. 1, the archives will be open to the public only by appointment and only on a limited basis as a budget-cutting move. In addition, its staff of 10 full-time employees will be reduced.

You read that right. Even as the state is commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), it is saying “no” to those who want to research that history.

It goes without saying that much of the genealogical and other records in the archives are not available anywhere else.

Kemp says he has to cut more than $730,000 from his department’s budget as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s request that most state agencies pare their spending by 3 percent for next year’s budget. And the archives was apparently an easy target.

“I think it’s devastating,” Kaye Lanning Minchew of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia archives, told the Associated Press. “The state archive holds the records of the people. So how can you not be open to the public?”

Sadly, it was already open less often than its counterparts in the region. Formerly open for at least 40 hours a week, the Georgia Archives has been skimping along at just 17 hours a week for the past year. Meanwhile, Mississippi operates its archives open six days a week and South Carolina’s is open five days, for example. Alabama’s archives is open four days a week, plus every second Saturday.

If they can do it, why can’t we? Do we care less about our past?

Moreover, the decision to open the archives on an “appointment-only” basis puts the state in the undesirable and possibly unconstitutional position of deciding which aspects of our history are suitable for scholars and others to research. It opens the door to political correctness, with one’s research project suddenly hinging on the whim or bias of faceless fourth-tier bureaucrats.

Kemp’s move was quick to draw criticism, with thousands already signing online petitions to protest the move (go to “Georgians Against Closing State Archives” on Facebook to add your name).

The Secretary says he made the decision to shutter the archive reluctantly and hopes the Legislature will restore the funding in next year’s session. We hope that’s not just empty talk, and that the governor and legislators will indeed see the need not just to preserve the contents of the state’s “attic,” but keep them available to the public.
Comments
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Retiree1
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September 19, 2012
I don't understand all the fuss. It will not be "closed" to the public--just available by appointment with a reduced staff. How often is it used by the public anyway? Historians and researchers and other members of the general public will still be able to use the archives.
RootsFinder
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September 20, 2012
The State Archives is used by over 6,000 people per year. An archivist staff of two will not be able to take many appointments to handle the number of individuals who use the Archives in a year.
Concerned Citizen
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September 29, 2012
No, most Georgians don't understand "all the fuss" because they don't know that the Archives has a legal obligation under the Georgia Records Act to make available the public records housed there to all Georgians for, among other reasons, government transparency. Many Georgians are also under the assumption that the Archives is just a place for history buffs and genealogists. Archives holdings are also important for running our state government efficiently and in a fiscally responsible way. Documents are needed for, among other things, litigation over county line disputes, which can cost counties tax revenue depending on the outcome and cost taxpayers in drawn out court proceedings. Records housed there may also affect legislative decisions. With a staff of two to handle both state agency requests and those of the public, guess who will get shut out?
RootsFinder
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September 19, 2012
Secretary of State Kemp was requested to propose where he could cut his budget by 3 percent. Rather than look at all his departments and impose a cut throughout all the departments, he targeted the entire State Archives budget. This was to be presented to the Legislature in the next session in 2013 not take place effect November 1, 2012 including laying off 7 employees on the same day, which he advised them on September 18, 2012.

He obviously does not realize the importance of having the State's public records available to the public. He has also ignored a State statue that the State Archives is to be open every Saturday.

His press release indicated he was more interested in licensing and small businesses. He also said the State Archives did not generate any income. The Archives is not suppose to generate income. What he did not stop to think about is that professional genealogists are a small business and he has essentially closed their business and caused them a loss of income.

Yes - the governor and legislature are also at fault for cutting more and more money from public services and ensuring their 'pet' projects are funded. There is money to support the Archives as revenues were just reported being up for the last quarter. When is the last time you have seen our governor or legislators take a pay cut?

Keep the letters going to the governor and legislative representatives to ensure the State Archives remain open to the public. Genealogists, educators, researchers, historians, and others rely on this valuable resource of information of our State history.
Maatf
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September 19, 2012
I don't blame Kemp nearly as much as I blame our short-sighted governor and legislature - after cutting taxes for long enough, we start to cut away muscle and bone. We have cut taxes so much that we can't even keep our history alive.

If Deal can spend $1 million to provide well water to a business friend, he can find enough money to keep our historical archives available to us.
Query
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September 19, 2012
I don't disagree with the overall message, but I do wonder, what's a "fourth-tier bureacrat?"
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