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AG Ferguson battles on multiple fronts to save Seattle’s National Archives

Seattle's National Archives Facility.(Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio)

UPDATE, 1/4/21: Attorney General Bob Ferguson will be delivering a press conference Monday at 10 a.m., providing an update on the battle to save Seattle’s National Archives.

ORIGINAL STORY, published on 12/29/20:

The general public will finally get a chance to formally weigh in on the controversial decision to close the Seattle facility of the National Archives and move its priceless Northwest photos, maps, and documents to California and Missouri.

That chance to voice opinions in favor of or against the closure will come through a virtual public meeting scheduled to take place via Zoom on Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Has the obscure federal agency known as the Public Buildings Reform Board – who made the decision to close and sell a year ago in near total secrecy – suddenly come to its senses by creating this opportunity for public input and transparency?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. The public meeting is being convened by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office has been leading a legal effort to delay the sale, and to ultimately reverse the decision.

Ferguson joined Mike Lewis on Seattle’s Morning News on Tuesday to announce the public meeting a full three weeks in advance to make sure word reaches the Native Americans, educators, historians, archivists, students, genealogists and others most directly impacted by the threatened closure and sale of the federal facility.

“They’ve had no public process whatsoever,” Ferguson said. “So I am holding, essentially, a public hearing. It’s going to be on Tuesday afternoon, January 19, and we’re inviting the public, those who use this facility, to speak about how they use it.”

Will a meeting like this have any impact on the Public Buildings Reform Board?

“What we’re going to do is make a copy of the video [of the meeting] and send it, frankly, to these federal bureaucrats who don’t understand what this facility is all about,” Ferguson said.

Just how out of touch does Attorney General Ferguson consider the members of the Public Buildings Reform Board – the agency whose actions led to imminent closure and sale of the Seattle facility, and who one researcher said “[doesn’t] necessarily understand archiving”?

“Just to give you one sense of that, a guy who’s on this board who made this [decision] said, ‘This building, the archives building, can become a part of the community if they sell it, as opposed to what it is today,’” Ferguson said.

“In other words,” Ferguson said, “they literally think this facility is not a part of our community, which is frankly insulting, and fails to understand what this place means to all of us.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit that Attorney General Ferguson announced on KIRO Radio in early December is proceeding. The timing of that legal action was based on another quiet decision by the Public Buildings Reform Board earlier this year to expedite the sale of the Seattle facility and a dozen other federal properties to as soon as early January 2021.

“We will be filing that federal lawsuit, [and] that lawsuit will be seeking to put a stop to the sale of the property,” Ferguson said. “Right now, we’re working with tribes across the region who are impacted by this for critical tribal records, we’re working with historical organizations, other individuals as well, to put together the best legal case we possibly can.”

“I would expect have a hearing before a federal judge on our case in January,” Ferguson said.

The public meeting about the Seattle National Archives facility will take place via Zoom at this link on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. The meeting code is: 838 5218 6385. Passcode: 426894. You’ll also be able to call in to the meeting at 253-215-8782 with the same meeting code.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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