Gov. Nathan Deal pledged Wednesday to keep the Georgia Archives open, buoying the hopes of archives supporters still stunned by an announcement last week to sharply curtail public access because of budget cuts.
The promise, however, came after seven of the archive’s remaining 10 full-time staff members learned they will be laid off starting Nov. 1, when regular hours cease.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp made the archives decision after Deal asked most state agencies to trim their budgets by 3 percent because of a sluggish economy. Those cuts must be approved by state lawmakers, who won’t take up the issue until at least January.
Under the current plan, the archive director, an archivist and the building supervisor will be available to accept limited public appointments to see the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733.
“We’re working on our budget proposals, and we’re going to make sure the archives stay open,” Deal said as he signed a proclamation to celebrate October as Archives Month across the state. The signing had been planned months ago, although it proved ironic given the timing.
Kemp said he expects the archives move to save the bulk of more than $730,000 — enough to satisfy a proposed cut in his office budget going into next year. However, if his decision stays intact, 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 move galvanized thousands of archives supporters into action, with one petition Wednesday morning signed by more than 13,700 people from across the nation.
More than 80 supporters showed up at Deal’s office for the proclamation signing. The number surprised his staff, who had expected between five and 10 people.
The mood turned celebratory when news of Deal’s promise spread, although supporters said they would not stop speaking out given that the archives remained on track to all but shut down in November. The state archives are located in Morrow.
“We’re thankful for the governor’s words,” said one of the group’s organizers, Kaye Lanning Minchew of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives. “But we don’t want it to close Nov. 1, so we absolutely need to make sure the advocacy doesn’t stop.”