Georgia on my mind
The battle to save the Georgia Archives isn’t over, as the 2013 Georgia legislative session continues without — as yet — a vote on funding for the Archives for the upcoming year.
We’re now in the fourth week of the 12-week scheduled legislative session and time is starting to be a real issue to get enough funding restored to the budget for the Georgia Archives to keep it open and staffed and to get a good system in place to transfer the Archives — and funding for the Archives — from the Secretary of State (where it’s just a political football) to the University System of Georgia (where we can hope the academic community better appreciates this priceless resource).
Remember where we stood when this legislative session got underway:
• In September, the Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was facing a budget crisis in his office and decided to take all the funds he needed for his other functions from the Archives. The result: “effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public.”1
• The Friends of Georgia Archives & History (FOGAH) and the Society of Georgia Archivists led a public outcry and public demonstrations of support for the Archives, demanding that the Archives stay open.2
• Kemp backed down and said he wouldn’t completely close the Archives. Instead, he’d change it to being open by appointment only: anybody could make an appointment, but only during the first two weeks of each month and only for a maximum of two and a half hours.3
• The outcry over that plan prompted Governor Deal to provide just enough money to keep the Archives open on its two-day-a-week schedule — but only through 30 June of this year — the current fiscal year. He also proposed moving the Archives to the control of the University System down the road. The temporary fix still cost the jobs of five archivists — irreplaceable resources for researchers.4
• In early January, things looked like they were looking up. The Governor put a budget proposal on the table that looked like it’d be enough to keep the Archives open two days a week and not lose any more jobs.5 And the University System started an advisory group working to plan the takeover of the archives.6
And that’s where things are stuck.
First off, the proposed budget is barely adequate. The Governor says it will keep the Archives open two days a week; FOGAH and the Georgia Genealogical Society (GGS) folks aren’t so sure, and they and other groups fighting to save the Archives are working feverishly to get the budget amount increased, ideally by a little more than $1 million which would fund a five-day-a-week schedule.
With no increase, however, if only the budget proposed by the Governor is adopted, Elizabeth Olson, vice chair of the GGS, and Vivian Price Saffold, co-chair of FOGAH, warned this week in an email that the Archives schedule and staff are still very much at risk: “With a severely reduced budget for the next fiscal year, the Archives could still be forced to terminate the two restored employees and may have to close to the public. The appointment system conceived by the Secretary of State could become a reality.”
And the longer the legislative session drags on, and the more the legislators’ attention is focused on other issues, the greater the risk to the Archives for 2013.
The simple fact is: there won’t be any money for the Archives without a vote by the Legislature to approve a budget. And there won’t be any improvement in the access to the Archives without the Legislature providing more money than the Governor has proposed. And there won’t be a smooth transition from the Secretary of State to the University System without additional legislative action.
In other words, saving the Georgia Archives isn’t a done deal, and all of us who care about records access can’t let down our efforts.
As Olson and Saffold note, “The clock is ticking on the 2013 session of the Georgia General Assembly. People who support the Georgia Archives need to reach out to legislators quickly. The Georgia Genealogical Society is urging everyone to contact his or her state legislator, especially those who are members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees and the Higher Education Appropriations sub-committees.”
You can find a list of members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees here and of the members of the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees here. Every legislator’s name is a hotlink to an individual page with contact details.
If you live in the district of one of these people, your voice needs to be heard now. If you don’t live in Georgia, why not check and see if one of these folks represents the area where your ancestors came from? That’s the kind of personal touch that might make a real difference in how that legislator viewed your letter. And even if you can’t find that kind of a connection, sheer numbers of letters and emails in support of the Archives can help tip the balance. If you’re not sure what to say, there are talking points on the FOGAH website with slides you can review under the “Help Contact Senators and Representatives” area.
So come on, folks. It’s up to us. Every single one of us who cares about records access — especially but not just those of us with Georgia ancestors — needs to get into this fight.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Join the Friends of Georgia Archives & History. Stay on top of developments at GeorgiaArchivesMatters. Take an hour to understand the issues and write to these Georgia legislators who hold the power of the purse in their hands.
Come join me. Working together, we can make a difference. We can help preserve and protect our own history by helping to preserve and protect the Georgia Archives.
- “Georgia Closes State Archives,” WSAV-TV (http://www2.wsav.com/news : accessed 14 Sep 2012). ↩
- Judy G. Russell, “One hour for the Georgia Archives,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Oct 2012 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 4 Feb 2013). ↩
- “Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp Releases Plan on Archives Access,” Secretary of State News (http://www.sos.ga.gov/pressrel : accessed 15 Oct 2012). ↩
- Judy G. Russell, “Georgia Archives: win some, lose some,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Oct 2012 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 Jan 2013). ↩
- Kristina Torres, “Deal sets aside $4.3 million for Georgia Archives,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, online, posted 22 Jan 2013 (http://www.ajc.com/ : accessed 23 Jan 2013). ↩
- “Planning begins on transfer of state archives to University System,” University System of Georgia Newsroom, posted 2 Jan 2013 (http://www.usg.edu/news/ : accessed 23 Jan 2013). ↩