In Tombstone, a dispute over the historical record

Tombstone archivist Nancy Sosa manages and restores historic city records
In a town that defines itself through history, a historian could be in jeopardy.

Nancy Sosa, the historical records manager for the city of Tombstone, could potentially face termination if the city and the Foundation for the Tombstone Archives cannot come up with a solution to help the foundation reduce or pay off money the city claims it is owed.

The Foundation for the Tombstone Archives is an organization established by Sosa and other community members to “provide financial support for the city of Tombstone archivist and archives,” according to its mission statement. Sosa, a city employee, manages, documents and restores Tombstone’s historical records, and also engages in community events to promote historical records preservation and community interests.

“We live in a town that survives on history. Without the past events and the surviving interest in the Wild West, Tombstone will die,” Sosa wrote in a letter to the council.

This is not the first time Sosa’s job has been on the line. After she was hired by the city in 2008, she was let go in 2009 by then mayor Dustin Escapule. She was rehired in 2010. Then the position was once again on the line in 2012 when the city was looking for possible reductions in budget.

The city and the foundation signed a contract in March this year that states that the foundation would reimburse the city Sosa’s salary and expenses accrued in running the organization.

The agreement was set up to serve both parties’ interests, said mayor Stephen Schmidt. The city was in debt and closing the historical archives was one of the options to save money. The foundation wanted to preserve the historical archives and keep its records manager.

If not for the agreement, Sosa would have been terminated as historical records manager in 2012.

Sosa wrote in her letter, “I was told to raise $7,000 in one week to keep my job and keep the archives opened [when the city was considering closing down the archives]. I raised almost $15,000 in one week.”

“I am the only city employee who has to raise the funds to pay herself. I work six days a week without complaint to promote, preserve and protect our history,” she added.

Ward 4 Councilman Herbert Linn said the foundation has not been able to keep up with the payments.

At the city council meeting on Nov. 19, Linn asked for an action on the foundation “for violation of their professional services contract” with the city with “further consideration of eliminating the historic records manager” and filling the position with city personnel.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacey Kobeck-Reeder motioned to table the item until the city and the foundation hold a meeting to find a solution. But such a meeting has not taken place yet, according to Kari Devere, treasurer of the foundation and Linn.

Devere said the foundation currently owes the city $7,349.60.

“The city proposed at that meeting to meet with the foundation to figure something out,” Devere said. “They’ve not come forward with suggestions to when we would do that. So at the moment, we’re waiting.”

Linn said the foundation is not generating enough money to pay the city back and the city has to take measures to make sure its operations are “fiscally sound.” With the money that Tombstone is giving to the foundation to pay for expenses and Sosa’s salary, he said the city could focus on other undermanned departments.

“They could hire one more deputy and two more public works employees and to me, that makes more sense,” he said. “It’s not about her ability or inability to maintain archives,” he said of Sosa.

Devere said the foundation, which is funded solely by donations, has already reimbursed the city $21,013.45 since the contract was signed in March, which she said is more than what Sosa was ever paid.

“Donations are ongoing but they’re not in large amounts,” she said.

According to Devere, the foundation applied for the 501(c)(3) status, which would allow them to apply for grants to help fund their programs and pay for expenses.

The foundation has not received any grants. But Devere said Sosa personally applied for and received grants to preserve archives.

Sosa said in the letter that she successfully wrote “grants for microfilming and digitizing of permanent records, which is a state and federal requirement.”

She also organized events to help raise money for the preservation of historical archives, Devere said. On some occasions, Sosa spent her personal money or acquired donations for research pertaining to city archiving business.

In her letter, Sosa wrote, “In September, I traveled to the National Archives at Riverside to obtain valuable information on our water line at no cost to the city. I again paid my own way to provide for our community.”

Linn said he wants the archives to go back to where it used to be: the city clerk’s office. He also suggested substituting the historical records manager position with city personnel and volunteers. However, Devere said archiving is not something anyone can do.

“Anybody can claim to be a historian, but whether or not they can actually take care of historical archives is another thing,” she said. She added that Sosa is the “glue that holds this together.”

Linn said he would continue to push for a conversation to eliminate the historical records manager position until the foundation can prove that it can “generate money” and “pay their own way.”

“I will wait probably until the first of the year and see how far they are in the hole,” he said. “Then I put it back on the agenda and talk about it again.”

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