A new Senate bill could change the formation of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s nine-member board of trustees, transforming it from a self-appointed board to a politician-appointed one.
Senate Bill 2727 would allow the governor and lieutenant governor to alternate in appointing new MDAH trustees every six years, which would then be approved of or rejected by the Senate. Currently, members are nominated by the MDAH Board of Trustees itself and confirmed by the Senate.
The bill has already passed through the Senate at a 34-14 vote and is currently on its way to the House of Representatives.
MDAH, which was established in 1902, is responsible for preserving Mississippi history by raising resources and support for a new Archives and History Building, Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History, where historians and archivists can recount history “without concern for political fallout.” MDAH is also responsible for signing off on changes to historical sites, including the relocated Confederate monument on the UM campus.
Sen. Mike Thompson, the author of the bill, said he found it odd that the MDAH Board of Trustees is one of the only boards in the state that picks its own members and claims that this bill’s purpose is simply to hold them accountable.
According to the Daily Journal, Sen. John Polk supported Thompson and his bill, saying that the board’s “diversity of thought, as far as archives and especially history, is maybe a little myopic, and we need some new thought in there.”
The Society of Mississippi Archivists’ board of directors has released a statement commenting on Senate Bill 2727, urging Mississippi residents to contact their state representatives and share their concerns over the proposed bill.
“The Society of Mississippi Archivists condemns this action in the strongest possible terms and urges members of the Mississippi House of Representatives to vote ‘no’ on this action,” the statement reads.
While some senators voiced their support for Thompson’s bill, others expressed concerns. Sen. John Horhn said that the MDAH Board of Trustees was already geographically diverse, and the board members were already approved by the Senate.
Sen. Hob Bryan agreed with Horhn, saying that the way the board currently selects their board members has worked out well since the agency was formed.
Bryan also said he was concerned about placing politician-appointed trustees in charge of the Civil Rights Museum and even referred to segregationists during the Civil Rights movement.
“Who do you think Ross Barnett would have appointed to the Department of Archives and History?” Bryan said.
Another issue Bryan has with the bill is that it advanced through the Senate so silently. Some senators didn’t know what the bill was about until it came to the floor, and there was not a chance for the public to review it before it landed on the Senate floor. He felt that the bill came out of nowhere when it was proposed.
The timeline of when the state House of Representatives will vote on the bill remains uncertain.