Budget cuts vs. Georgia Archives

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The planned closing — for the most part — of the Georgia Archives has outraged many. Defenders call the archive a cornerstone of democracy. Yet officials plan to curtail hours to meet budget cuts, making Georgia the only state where the public lacks full-time access to thousands of records. An archive supporter and the secretary of state discuss the decision.

Archive  faces death by a thousand cuts

By Timothy J. Crimmins

When Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced the all-but-complete closing of the Georgia Archives to public access last week, he unleashed a firestorm of protest. Acting quickly to quell the reaction, on Tuesday he ordered the firing of seven of the nine professionals at the archive . If Secretary Kemp is allowed to carry out his plan, every Georgian will suffer.

Genealogists and historians are seen as the natural constituents of the archive , but all citizens must be concerned because public access to records is vital for open government. Democracies require not just free elections, but also open access to records of governmental actions.

Secretary Kemp’s coup de grâce is the culmination of a five-year process of death by a thousand cuts. From 2008 to 2010, the layoffs of experienced archivists began the service decline. Last year, additional staff reductions limited public access to two days a week. Now, with only two professional archivists remaining, the archive is effectively closed to the public. Georgia is alone in the nation in taking such draconian action.

The records in the collection are a critical pillar of support in an effective democracy, but they also are important to economic development. They have been used to identify caves where methane gas could be collected, to locate ideal soils for vineyards and to find forest locations for the reintroduction of the American chestnut. In conjunction with its neighboring National Archives building, the Georgia Archives generates tourist dollars.

Records collected in the archive save money for taxpayers. In recent years, two Georgia counties spent a million dollars in legal fees because of a boundary dispute over the sales tax from a store on a county line. After an exhaustive search, the archive’s staff could not find definitive records and litigation ensued. More commonly, millions are saved because records can be found to solve tax disputes.

Secretary Kemp is shuttering the archive in response to a mandate from Gov. Nathan Deal to reduce his budget by 3 percent. He made the decision to make the Georgia Archives carry the entire burden of this cut. His staff reductions are targeted to the dedicated and loyal archivists whose collection and curation knowledge is essential to the proper functioning of the archive .

Secretary Kemp has a number of divisions for which his office is responsible. In addition to preserving and protecting vital records in the archive , his office oversees the running of elections and the registration of corporations. Of these three vital functions, Secretary Kemp has exempted two and decided that the Georgia Archives must carry the full burden of his cuts.

His justification for shuttering the archive is that further cuts will endanger election operations or incorporations. But must he pit the needs of two vital processes against those of a third? Why can’t other units suffer a 2 percent cut? Why can’t his satellite operations be closed?

Gov. Deal has the power to reverse Kemp’s decision. Georgians must let him know that closing the archive to public access is not an option.

Timothy J. Crimmins is vice chairman of the Friends of the Georgia Archives and History.

Priority is for cuts to affect fewest possible

By Brian Kemp

Any budget, no matter if it is a family budget or a state budget, reflects our priorities. These priorities are not based solely on wants or needs, but rather on what can be afforded. During these difficult economic times, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office simply cannot afford to keep the State Archives open to the public.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) instructed my office to reduce our budget by 3 percent ($732,626) for the coming year. While this cut is steep, it reflects only a small portion of the millions of dollars in reductions we have already absorbed over the past several years. Our agency budget has been cut by more than 25 percent, from $32.1 million in 2008 to $23.7 million for the coming year — an $8.4 million decrease. To put this in staffing terms, our agency has reduced its workforce by 38 percent, from 350 to 216 employees.

As secretary of state, it is my job to ensure that budgetary decisions strategically reflect our highest priorities and affect as few Georgians as possible. Federal government requirements prevent us from considering cuts to the budget of the State Elections Division. We cannot and will not jeopardize secure, accessible and fair elections in Georgia.

Our Securities Division is charged with protecting Georgians from financial fraud. Because of increased responsibilities from the Dodd-Frank Act and the fact that the division’s budget has been reduced from $1,804,043 to $833,891 since 2008, any further reduction would leave Georgia’s citizens vulnerable.

The Corporations Division processes hundreds of thousands of registrations for Georgia businesses and produced $44 million in fees for the state last year. If the division’s budget of $1.3 million was cut and staff was reduced, the wait times for corporation filings and renewals would increase.

Nowhere have budget cuts been felt more by the citizens of Georgia than in the Professional Licensing Boards Division (PLB). This division protects Georgians by ensuring almost 500,000 qualified individuals are licensed to work.

Because of past reductions and increased workloads, Georgians are now waiting, on average, five times longer to renew a professional license and more than three months for a new license to be granted. Last year in the PLB call center, one out of every four callers was unable to reach an operator. Further cuts would reduce efficiency, reduce revenue and lengthen the time it takes to get Georgians working.

The Secretary of State’s Office is unique in that last year it generated $81.5 million in fees, but it receives a state appropriation of only $23.7 million to perform the duties of the office. This is less than a third of what we take in, and this unfortunate reality means that only funded functions can be maintained.

It is my sincere desire for budget conditions to improve so that the 3 percent cut would be eliminated, or an additional state appropriation can be made, so that Georgians can once again have improved access to the State Archives.

Brian Kemp is Georgia’s secretary of state.

17 comments Add your comment

[...] indicated in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the “Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) instructed my office to reduce our [...]

Disapointed

September 22nd, 2012
3:08 am

Rumore has it that Mr. Kemp spent money on creating a “board room.” Mr. Kemp would you clarify that. Did you infact spend state dollars on this unnecessary addtion? Why couldn’t you use one of the rooms in the State Capitol expecially since these rooms are just a matter of steps away from your office.

jd

September 21st, 2012
3:57 pm

They’ve made it near impossible to trace campaign donations now they want to literally close the vault on the archives of public records — the public will be kept in the dark as to what these folks have done.

Thomas Jefferson said the secret to a successful Republic was a well-educated citizenry — guess we gonna be dumb and a bunch of failures.

Merri Torre

September 21st, 2012
3:41 pm

First, the seven professional archivists are paid so little that laying them off doesn’t come close to fulfilling the budget cuts. Akin to teachers, these professionals didn’t go into their fields for money; they went into it as a labor of love. Secondly, obviously based on some comments here about “volunteers” replacing professionally trained archivists, some people have no idea the skills and expertise, not to mention years and years of education, professional development, and internships required for the training of practicing archivists. There have always been volunteers and interns at the Georgia Archives (I know as I was one once upon a time). If you are suggesting that neophytes can replace their professional peers SAWB, you are mistaken in such a high degree that I don’t even know how to begin to make it apparent to you. That is like suggesting that elementary school student replace their teachers or the medical students completely take over all the work of doctors. It isn’t possible. Volunteers need training and oversight by professionals.

hoho

September 21st, 2012
2:25 pm

It’s important to know that laying off these 7 employees and cutting hours to the Archives won’t even come close to the $730,000 in proposed budget cuts. It seems pretty clear that this move was not well thought out. Unfortunately, though, it is not Secretary of State Brian Kemp who suffers for this poor decision; it is Georgians.

Valerie Craft

September 21st, 2012
12:56 pm

I can understand (to a certain extent) what he’s saying about his budget: He’s been slashing everywhere already. What I don’t agree with is his blase attitude toward cutting the archives. I don’t think he understands the true impact that the Archives has for the state of Georgia. Tourism: I’ve literally gone to South Carolina for the better part of a week to use their archives. Hotel and food costs add up, as do visiting other local attractions. Education: What’s the point of Clayton State’s archives management degree if there is no local archive? Business: see the article.

Here’s my thing: Kemp should be fighting. Now – not waiting until January. He should be publicly calling on the governor to step in and give special funds to help the Archive. He should speak out against these cronyism that is sending $4.5m to a lake resort. He should be trying to find some kind of compromise. But he isn’t doing anything.

concernedgeorgiacitizen

September 21st, 2012
12:13 pm

Mr. Kemp suggests that closing the Archives is the only solution to shore up his quickly sinking agency. The suggestion is that closing the archives is a solution that will have the least repercussions. By his actions, he suggests the Georgia Archives doesn’t matter.
Obviously, Mr. Kemp does not have a clue about the holdings of the Georgia Archives. The government of Georgia can not do the business of the people of Georgia without access to these records. How will the business of Georgia be archived in the future? Two employees can not archive all of the records mandated to be archived. I guess they can show the HVAC guy how to use a scanner but I am more than a bit concerned that the records will not be properly handled. Further, losing the collective intellectual knowledge of the archives employees is a disaster. How will Sec. Kemp, and others at the capitol, find those archived records they will need in the future?.
So here’s his solution to the budget crisis, Mr. Kemp closes the archive and fires the employees. Now, the fired employees will collect unemployment benefits, we ( the citizens of Georgia) will have to pay the unemployment benefits, the rent on the building, and access to our historical and public records will be denied.
Mr. Kemp’s decision hasn’t resolved a thing but he has effectively moved the issue from his plate to ours.
The people of Georgia need to make sure this decision is reversed.