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After conflict over LBGT event, bill would revamp archives’ board

The membership of the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History would shrink and members would be appointed anew under a bill pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session.

Senate Bill 5 comes after a summertime conflict between the Department of Archives and History and several lawmakers, including bill sponsor Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, over a lunchtime lecture on the history of LBGT people in the state.

Elliott and others questioned the appropriateness of the event. He said state agencies shouldn’t be talking about anyone’s sexuality or orientation.

Elliott last week told Alabama Daily News the bill came out of lawmakers’ concerns about Archives and History and “the realization that this is one of the very, very, few boards that is set up in this self-perpetuating model” where members can stay on indefinitely and pick their successor.

“When it is time for elected officials to make sure that they explain what the will of the people in the state of Alabama is, these folks have no incentive to listen because they’re their own appointing authority,” Elliott said. “… There needs to be accountability for folks that are making decisions and using taxpayer dollars.” 

Currently, the board includes two members from each of the state’s seven congressional districts and vacancies are filled by the board, with Senate confirmation.

Elliott’s bill would make the board smaller and members would be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate president pro tem. Senate confirmation would still be required.

In a written statement, Archives Director Steve Murray said the board members have been selected in the same manner, and confirmed by the state Senate, since 1901. 

“The ADAH respectfully encourages the Legislature to retain the governance structure that, for almost 125 years, has made possible the agency’s legacy of service, integrity, and commitment to ensuring that Alabama’s history is preserved for future generations,” the statement said.

The current board structure has resulted in “agency stability with professional and non-partisan administration of the historical materials that document Alabama’s past, including the foundational government records that guarantee the rights of Alabamians.” 

Currently, the board is 73% white, 27% African American, 47% male, and 53% female. 

“The characteristics most in common among them are an interest in history, a commitment to public service, and a belief in the mission of the ADAH as a place of stewardship and education.” 

Elliott said the archives board needs the same accountability as other state boards. Gov. Kay Ivey last month removed an appointed Alabama Public Library Service Board member. Virginia Doyle was recently critical of state leaders’ threats to cut library funding unless the board distances itself from the American Library Association. Ivey’s office did not specify why Doyle was removed days after calling threats to cut library funds “ridiculous.” 

“As someone who has been removed by Gov. Ivey from a position before, that’s exactly what this bill is,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, the governor has the ability to make those decisions and I know full well what it feels like.” 

In 2019, Ivey removed Elliott from the eight-member Alabama Transportation Improvement Program II committee. She replaced him with Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile. At the time, Elliott said the move was related to his opposition to plans to use tolls to fund a new I-10 Mobile River bridge. That funding plan was later nixed. Ivey’s office disputed that reasoning.

Now, Elliott said the governor and legislative leaders should have that same authority with the archives board.

“Our job is to make sure that state government and the people making decisions are accountable to the people who elect us,” he said.

In July’s special session of the Legislature, Elliott sponsored a bill to clawback $5 million in supplemental funding from the department. That bill didn’t advance in the week-long session.

Co-sponsors on SB5 are Republican Sens. Sam Givhan of Huntsville, Lance Bell of Riverside, Garlan Gudger of Cullman and Keith Kelley of Anniston.

The legislative session starts Feb. 6.

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