This is sort of like your bank saying you no longer will have access to your safety-deposit box because there will nobody left employed there to let you in. Should anybody sit still for that? In this case, those are your documents if living in Georgia, by right of inheritance, and the state is only the custodian of them and not the proprietor.
This announcement didn’t make front pages, meaning that the general public (and its journalists) are equally clueless regarding the importance of the contents of the Georgia State Archives as are government officials.
One supposes the general impression is that the building in Morrow — built by taxpayers in 2003 for $30 million and featuring state-of-the-art climate control for document preservation to replace a decaying antique in downtown Atlanta — just holds a pile of dusty old papers of no interest to any other than historians or genealogists. Actually, 260 million documents, plus other stuff ... but who’s counting?
In reality the entire legal underpinning of the state — not just its history — is contained in those holdings. Lawyers need them all the time, for example.
A PARTIAL listing of what the state itself considers the role of the archives includes: “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. … The archives maintains the original, official copies of the state’s laws, which are referred to frequently to decide points of law.”
(A good detailed overview of what the archive operation does and why it is important was provided this past January by the Friends of Georgia Archives and History. The document arguing for more funding instead of less can be found at http://www.rn-t.com/bookmark/20175330. The governor and legislators can hardly argue they were not alerted to the scope and value of this operation.)
In 2011, the archives served more than 62,000 individuals directly and another 1.9 million through its various electronic access functions. Those other accesses do not appear to be in great shape either. The “Virtual Vault” of the archives, much acclaimed in the past , is still on the Internet but visitors are greeted with this front page warning in red: “The Virtual Vault is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Searches may not function properly. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Guess the state doesn’t have the money to maintain its servers either.
LET’S HASTEN to point out that Secretary of State Brian Kemp shouldn’t be blamed for this. Faced with a demand from the governor for an extra budget cut of $733,000 for his multi-faceted department of government, he had little left to dump anywhere and some areas, such as running elections and maintaining professional licenses, are hardly places to try to “go cheap.”
Kemp is also one of the few elected officials who seems to understand the importance of the archives and his statement was properly tear-stained. He also repeated his quite valid point of long-standing: his department brings in revenues triple the size of its budget. Why is the state so intent on killing the goose that lays golden eggs during a revenue crisis?
Access to the archives won’t be entirely denied, of course. Those staffers remaining — 10 at last count compared to 82 a couple of decades ago and with Kemp warning some of the last 10 have to be let go — will let individuals inside “as time allows” … and time won’t allow much with numbers like these. The archives staff is also supposed to do intake and cataloging for every state agency’s records.
However, Kemp was probably remiss in not pointing out that added duties/expenses dumped on him by the General Assembly have likely created much of this problem. For example, take the Voter ID law that Kemp’s division also must handle. Ever seen the state provide a dollar figure for this? In Ohio a similar Voter ID effort is pegged at $10 million a year. This was piled atop the secretary of state’s existing obligations (such as maintaining the archives) at the same time Kemp’s budget was being steadily reduced.
WITHOUT passing judgment on either state function, which is more important: The safety of elections with little to no detected fraud once every two years or of the state’s legal documents all the time?
By the way, in this denial of public access it is interesting to recall that Georgia has an Open Records Act. Any and all public records (and the archives contain little else) must be available to citizen examination upon written or spoken request. It would be entertaining to see long caravans of genealogists pulling into Morrow and knocking on the archive doors to demand to see great-grandma’s marriage certificate. Officials denying such requests face some serious penalties in a law just recently strengthened.
Few realize that all the documents proving Georgia’s actual existence are also in the archives: the Royal Charter (1732), the state’s own copy of the Declaration of Independence (1777), its original Constitution (1789), even its ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Come to think of it, as Georgia marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, guess what is also in the archives soon to be behind lock and key? All of this state’s Civil War records.
Actually, once this kicks in (and an observation offered solely for amusement) suppose the “birther” position regarding President Obama’s citizenship is applied to Georgia. Copies and images of documents aren’t the real thing, can’t be tested to see if the ink and paper are age appropriate and otherwise not forgeries.
HENCE, if the public in mass is unable to be in the physical presence of Georgia’s founding documents does Georgia actually exist?
And, if it doesn’t, what are those people in Atlanta doing taxing us and then using our money so poorly?