Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

County office building no longer site for archive?

An offer “out of the clear blue” from the Washington County Election Commission could change the course of establishing a county archive.
The surprise proposal to move the Election Commission offices from the second to the third floor of the downtown courthouse — and use that space to temporarily relocate the archive from the county office building — received a mix of responses from members of the Public Records Commission during their May 3 meeting.
“Once you move over there, this building is gone, and we’ve worked too hard to get it,” said Chair Sam Humphreys, who learned of the offer only hours before the meeting. “This doesn’t make sense. Something like this doesn’t come out of the clear blue for no reason.”
Election Commissioner Jon Ruetz said being in such close proximity to the storage of records seems to be an advantage to the archive, which sparked the idea.
“We’ve really just unpacked, and the last thing we need is lack of office space to keep the archive from opening,” he said. The Election Commission office recently moved upstairs from the bottom floor of the courthouse.
Humphreys pointed out Archivist Ned Irwin already has an office in a building that faces Main Street, a prime location in fulfilling the archive’s purpose as a tourism magnet.
The space in the courthouse was to be used as an archive annex for overflow records, and work to remove sections of steel from the former jail is still underway. County records from the old Downtown Centre in Johnson City are housed in four nearby trailers.
Public Records Commission member William Kennedy said he thinks the offer is very gracious and made a motion to accept it, which was seconded by County Commissioner Alpha Bridger. Humphreys was the only member opposed.
County Commissioner Mark Ferguson said the move would first have to be approved by the County-Owned Property Committee.
“I’m chair of the County-Owned Property Committee, and if you want to move forward I will call a meeting in the morning to get it on the commission agenda this month,” he said.
Kennedy suggested making it very clear to the county commission the location would only be temporary.
“That’s not the way this commission works,” Humphreys said.
When Kennedy asked Ferguson his thoughts, Ferguson told a story ending with a punch line that a person doesn’t have to be smart to be a county commissioner. The story did not, however, answer Kennedy’s question.
“It’s already something the commission has voted on,” Ferguson said later. “We would have to rescind it to take away (the approval of the county office building as the archive site).”
Several Public Records Commission members wanted more time to think about the move. “Today is the first time I’ve heard about this,” Register of Deeds Ginger Jilton said.
Ruetz said the idea happened fairly quickly, but a decision needs to be made soon because the August election is approaching.
Humphreys suggested September as a possible month, but Ruetz said they would be looking at the presidential election then.
Kennedy moved to send the request to the County-Owned Property Committee, and Public Records Commission member Thomas Seeley seconded. Again, Humphreys was the only member to vote against the motion.
Bridger referred to the loss of an $800,000 state appropriation practically promised by Rep. Matthew Hill as the main reason for moving the archive to the courthouse.
“I talked to Matthew yesterday, and he was pretty devastated we didn’t get the money. I know he’s close with Jon (Ruetz,)” she said. Hill presented a $5,000 check to the archive during the April county commission meeting.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said plans for the archive were never contingent on a dime of state money.
“We have a funding mechanism in place with the fees.” Projected annual revenue for the archive is $200,000. Additional grants have been received and will continue to be pursued.
“From the standpoint of accomplishing the original goal of serving as a tourism site, this kills the whole project,” Eldridge said. “