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Georgia Archives funding fight still looms

Supporters, business leaders readying for battle ahead

Clayton County and City of Morrow officials argue closing the Georgia Archives would have a negative impact on education, tourism and economic development in the county.

Clayton County and City of Morrow officials argue closing the Georgia Archives would have a negative impact on education, tourism and economic development in the county.

— Thursday’s announcement that the Georgia Archives will stay open and transfer to the University System of Georgia’s control next summer doesn’t mark the end of the fight to save the Morrow-based facility, according to supporters and business leaders.

The temporary reprieve keeps the doors open to walk-in traffic through the end of next June, but legislators still have to approve the archives transfer from the Secretary of State’s office to the University System of Georgia.

The $125,000 provided to keep the facility open is far less than the $733,000 Secretary of State Brian Kemp expected to save by closing the facility to walk-ins. In fact, Friends of the Georgia Archives President Dianne Cannestra wrote on the group’s website that it will take millions of dollars to bring the archives — which has seen its budget cut repeatedly in recent years — back to its old glory.

“Our fight for restoration of the budget is not over,” said Cannestra, in a note to archives supporters. “The $125,000 is obviously not nearly enough. No matter where the Archives resides organizationally, we need to convince our senators and representatives that the Archives needs at least $5.4 million to get back to the model Archives it once was and be open five days a week.”

One big boost supporters will have in their fight is that they share a common goal with Clayton County business leaders who intend to bend the ears of the legislators in coming months to drum up funding for the archives.

Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beaufort said funding for the archives will likely be a key part of the chamber’s legislative priorities list for the next legislative session. She echoed Cannestra sentiments that ideally enough funding will be found to restore its operating hours to five days a week.

Beaufort expects the archives will also be a main topic when the chamber hosts its annual legislative update breakfast with Clayton County legislators in December, and when it hosts its second annual Clayton County Day at the State Capitol next spring.

“Having us all come together at the table will help,” said Beaufort. “Business community support behind an issue, and rallying behind an issue, does make a difference in communities.”

The chamber president said the archives has a “ripple effect” on Clayton County from an economic development standpoint because the patrons who use the facility also patronize businesses in the county while they are here. She added several businesses in the county have been calling the chamber’s office to express concerns that they would be negatively impacted by a closure of the archives.

The news that it will stay open and move to the university system is “outstanding” for the county, Beaufort said.

“This will be such a positive outcome for Clayton County,” said Beaufort. “The Georgia Archives provides us with so many visitors that come into our community and it has been a great asset to Clayton County as well as the city of Morrow and cities bordering it.”

Morrow Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke said he was partially pleased with the announcement to keep the archives open to the public at least temporarily, but he added he would rather see a permanent solution. He said he has not given up hope that public pressure will lead to legislators finding more money to keep it open to walk-ins even after the university system takes over the facility.

“We need every asset we have in this county to bring it back to its former glory,” said Burke. “We’ve had so many chips in our public reputation, but we cannot let this chip happen.”

Transferring the archives to the university system could be good for the archives because it will find a friendly university system compatriot next door at Clayton State University. Officials at the university pushed a decade ago to bring the state archives and the national archives to its doorstep.

Officials from the school and the Georgia Archives worked together to create Clayton State’s master’s degree program in archival studies — one of the few master’s programs of its type in the southeast.

University System Chancellor Hank Huckabee welcomed the addition of the archives, but offered little insight in a written statement as to how it will fit in to its new home.

“The State Archives contain a rich history of Georgia and there are extensive cultural and research opportunities available that fit with the University System’s overall mission,” said Huckabee. “We look forward to working with Secretary of State in the transition of the State Archives to the System and welcome the opportunity to have this tremendous treasure and resource become a part of the University System family.”

Clayton State University spokesman John Shiffert said part of the reason why there’s little explanation as to what will happen to the archives is because it’s still too early to tell what the university system will do with it.

He added that while Clayton State is closer to the archives — literally and perhaps figuratively — than any other university system institution, it remains to be seen how much influence the college will have in deciding how the addition of the archives is handled.

“No decisions have been put in place either by the Board of Regents, or by Clayton State,” Shiffert said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”