The Georgia Archives is important to Clayton County County as an economic generator which affects education, tourism and development, according to officials around the county. The archives has become the center of controversy with Secretary of State Brian Kemp announcing he will have to close the archives to the public because of budget cuts, and Gov. Nathan Deal vowing to keep it open.
JONESBORO The Georgia Archives may serve the entire state, but its deep roots in Clayton County mean closing it to the public would hurt several area businesses and educational institutions.
Although Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged to keep the archives open, he hasn’t said how he will fund that promise. Secretary of State Brian Kemp made the decision to close public access to the archives, effective Nov. 1, and to cut its staff from 10 people to three, because Deal’s planning and budget office directed him to cut $733,000 from his budget.
Officials from Clayton County and the City of Morrow said it is imperative that the archives remain open because its wealth of historical records is an economic generator for the county.
“People are coming from all across the country to do genealogical research at the Georgia Archives,” said Morrow Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke. “It’s putting heads in the beds of our hotels.”
The state archives touches many factors in Clayton County, ranging from education, to marketing, to economic development, so closing the archives to public access would have a far-reaching effect.
Clayton State University created a master’s degree program in archival studies because the university is located next to the state archives and the National Archives at Atlanta. The Clayton County Economic Development department has been trying to use the presence of both archives to convince genealogy-related businesses to build offices at the old Gateway Village site, located across Ga. 54 from the Georgia Archives.
No other community in the nation has a state archives located next door to a national archives. The city has made that claim an important part of their “Come to Morrow” marketing campaign.
“The Georgia Archives is an economic-development piece which brings people to the county and is key to our viability in the Southern Crescent,” said State Rep.-elect Mike Glanton of District 75.
Richard Pearce-Moses, who oversees Clayton State’s archival studies program, said closing the archives to public access would hurt a student’s ability to research history papers and thesis projects at the archives. Although students, like other residents, would be able to make appointments to visit the archives, those appointments would be subject to the availability of the remaining archives staff.
“Students may not be able to complete their research work if they are no longer able to access the primary source records,” he said. “So much for the Governor’s Complete Georgia program because it may delay these students chances of graduate by a semester or more.”
Grant Wainscott, the economic development director for Clayton County, said it is too early to tell if the possible closing of public access at the archives would have an impact on the Gateway Village redevelopment plans. He and other county economic development officials went to Salt Lake City earlier this year in an effort to lure genealogy-related businesses to the site.
“We are heartened by the public outcry over the potential closing of public access to the state archives,” said Wainscott. “So many agencies rely on the documents housed there. It’s about more than just budgets. There’s a real need to keep this building open because it houses our history.”
Although Wainscott and other officials assert the Georgia Archives is important to the county economy, Wainscott said the county does not have any formal data which shows the archives’ economic impact on Clayton County.
But, reversing the decision to close the archives will take money, and Kemp maintains he doesn’t have the funds to keep the archives open. In an Op-Ed piece released by his office Friday, Kemp said the state has cut his office’s budget appropriations by 25 percent, from $32.1 million to $23.7 million, since 2008.
The secretary also pointed out his office generated $81.5 million in revenues for the state last year through fee collections.
“During these difficult economic times, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office simply cannot afford to keep the state archives open to the public,” Kemp wrote in the Op-Ed piece.
Glanton, who previously served the state house from 2006 until 2010, said Kemp makes a good argument about how much money his office makes, versus how much it is given to appropriate in the state budget.
The state representative-elect said Clayton County’s legislative delegation should also have an “active role in discussions with state leaders” on funding the archives since it is located in the county.
Securing funding to keep the archives’ doors open will be one of Glanton’s priorities when he returns to the General Assembly in January, he said.
“I’ve been getting hundreds of e-mails from people saying, ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re back and here is the first issue you need to address,’ ” said Glanton.