Georgia Archives’ supporters remain ‘nervous’

With its near collapse averted in October, the Georgia Archives still faces a perilous transition next year with likely new bosses but the same old budget crunch.

That outlook comes as the state Legislature must still approve a proposal by Gov. Nathan Deal to cut the archives’ ties to the Secretary of State’s Office and allow the University System of Georgia to take over its management.

Supporters and staff, meanwhile, are still reeling from attempts to all but close it — even as they try to rally for whatever comes next. They support the management change and are pushing to restore at least $1.15 million in state spending to reopen the archives from two to five days a week.

“We’re fairly nervous,” said Dianne Cannestra, president of the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, which has spearheaded lobbying efforts heading into the next legislative session, which starts Jan. 14.

The group is trying to recruit volunteers so that every legislator will receive at least one visit by a constituent to support the archives’ move to the University System as well as greater state funding for it. Among their calling cards are notes about how the archives is used, including research for film and television shows. Among those who have visited are film director Spike Lee and Savannah’s own Paula Deen.

Cannestra also has pushed for the thousands of vocal supporters who backed the archives when budget cuts almost forced its closure as a full-time facility not to be lulled into complacency.

“The archives is barely limping along,” Cannestra said. “I think the budget is going to be a problem no matter where it resides.”

Concerns about the archives had been building for the past several years, as round after round of budget cuts forced the institution, located in Morrow, to shrink its hours from more than 40 a week to 17 since last year.

Then, in September, Secretary of State Brian Kemp said additional cuts would force him to accept only limited public appointments to see the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733. In addition, seven employees faced layoffs.

In response to the outcry that followed — including rallies at the Capitol and in Deal’s office — the governor announced he would restore enough money to keep the archives open until at least the middle of next year, pending the move to the University System.

The jobs of two of the seven employees were saved, along with an additional three who would have remained regardless. It was a muted victory for archives supporters, who lauded the decision but lamented the loss of five employees laid off as of Nov. 1.

“Just kind of playing it by ear,” Director Chris Davidson said of Deal’s plans for the archives, which is now open every Friday and Saturday.

A grant worth more than $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities is on hold, as the agency reviews the archives’ current staffing situation. Another grant of about $50,000 from the R. J. Taylor Jr. Foundation, which promotes genealogical research in Georgia, has been suspended as Davidson reviews how to move forward.

At least, Davidson said, the archives is open.

“We want people to come here and research,” he said. “We want people who’ve never been to come learn how to use the archives to get the most benefit out of it.”

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