More than 100 Georgia Archives supporters rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol, with efforts under way to see if Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is violating state law by all but closing the archives to the public.
The rally attracted a diverse group — family historians and genealogists mingling with politicians and tenured academics. Former Republican Georgia congressman Bob Barr called the decision shortsighted. State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, called it “a total and complete embarrassment.”
All said the state should be working toward more transparency in government, not less — including archived state documents protected by Georgia’s open records law.
The rally came as Gov. Nathan Deal, through a spokesman, said he remains committed to keeping the archives open. That won’t happen, however, until budget changes for the current fiscal year go before state lawmakers starting in January.
That will be too late to stop Kemp’s current plan: Effective Nov. 1, only limited public appointments will be available to see the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733. In addition, seven of the archives’ 10 full-time staff members will be laid off.
Georgia will become the only state in the nation without a place for people to have full-time, centrally located access to hundreds of thousands of government and state documents, photographs and historical records. The state archives are located in Morrow.
State law mandates the archives be accessible at least every Saturday. Kemp said he believes he is meeting that mandate by offering public appointments on Saturdays. Officials aren’t sure there will be access on other days of the week.
Dianne Cannestra, with the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, said supporters’ ultimate goal is to restore the archives’ regular public hours to at least five days a week. In the interim, she said some are exploring whether Kemp is violating state law, which requires documents and other records to be open for personal inspection at a reasonable time and place.
The archives move saves Kemp the bulk of more than $730,000, enough to satisfy a proposed cut in his office budget. Deal has asked most state agencies to trim their budgets by 3 percent next year as he eyes Georgia’s sluggish economy.
Kemp, who has said repeatedly the archives decision was a measure of last resort, also has pledged to work to have the cut restored during the next legislative session.