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Public stands against bill to restructure Archives board

The committee did not hold a vote on the bill Wednesday and is expected to make a decision next week.

Alabama Archives Chris Pruitt
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Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Montgomery, said Wednesday that he couldn’t remember a time he sat at a public hearing where every single person was against a bill.

But that was the case as the House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee heard from about a dozen people against a bill by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, to change the way appointees to the Alabama Department of Archives and History board are appointed.

Committee members Lawrence and Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, pressed Elliott on the impetus of the bill, and Elliott held firm that a situation over the summer revealed that the board is unaccountable and “self-perpetuating.” When pressed further about describing the situation, Elliott wondered aloud whether that was “germaine” to the bill.

Lawmakers eventually got their answer about the background from members speaking during the public hearing, who touched on the skirmish between Elliott and the Archives last June when he asked them not to host a one-hour program by the Invisible Histories project discussing LGBTQ history. Director Steve Murray did not heed the lawmaker’s suggesting to cancel the program, which sparked the ire of Elliott, who initially attempted to punish the department during special session with a. proposed bill to claw back $5 million in funding for the department.

“It has been made clear to me that SB77 as it is written is Sen. Elliott’s retaliatory response to a lunch-and-learn program about LGBTQ history at the Alabama Department of Archives and History ,”said Huntsville librarian Alyx Kim-Yohn. “He said himself on the Senate floor debate that this event was not history, thereby negating the professional experience and achievements of Dr. Megan Sullivan, an award-winning archives and director of the Invisible Histories project.”

While several speakers opposed the bill outright, some speakers either directly or indirectly involved with the Department of Archives suggested amending the language of the bill to better preserve the integrity of the board.

Murray suggested that the governor be responsible for making appointments to the board, to be confirmed in the Senate, as it is more akin to the way other historical and cultural board members are currently appointed. He also asked the committee to consider adding that the board members can only be removed for just cause, instead of at the pleasure of the appointing authority.

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Elliott’s other bill working through the House to allow for the removal of library boards was amended similarly on Wednesday to require cause in the removal process, fundamentally changing the potential for board members to be removed at political whims.

Murray noted that he examined the code of other cultural agencies including the Alabama Public Library Service and could find no code giving the authority for removal of board members. However, Gov. Kay Ivey notably removed long-time board member Virginia Doyle in November after Doyle made comments criticizing threats to state library funding.

A few members of the audience could not stifle their laughter when Elliott suggested the current setup of the board allows members to appoint “their buddies” to the board.

“I was not the buddy of anyone at the time of my appointment,” said board member Majella Hamilton later in the meeting. Hamilton is a co-founder and the executive director of the Ballard House Project, Inc., where she and a team have worked to preserve a historic structure in the Birmingham Civil Rights Historic District.

Delores Boyd, current chair of the Archives board, asked the committee to consider how the changes may affect donors who want to give their memorabilia and money to the department.

“This simply means we are chilled in how we are to go about our business in decision-making,” Boyd said. “What can be more unstable and chaotic than a board that is forever changing?”

Elliott has posted that the Department has a “woke agenda,” but multiple speakers said the only agenda at the department is to “preserve the history of Alabama.”

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The committee did not hold a vote on the bill Wednesday and is expected to make a decision on the bill next week.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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