State Museum

New executive director picked for TN State Museum

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission has selected Ashley Brown Howell, the deputy director at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, to succeed Lois Riggins-Ezell as its executive director, reports Cari Wade Gervin for the Nashville Post.

It seemed like the first motion to hire Howell failed on a voice vote. But before the Commission could take a roll call vote to confirm the failure, chair Tom Smith called for a five-minute recess. When the body returned, Smith asked that the motion to hire Howell be withdrawn, even though one cannot withdraw a motion one has voted on. However, the members went along with the violation of parliamentary procedure, and then recessed for 40 minutes. Once the meeting resumed, the DHSMC voted unanimously (with two members abstaining) to hire Howell.

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TN State Museum being audited — again

The Tennessee State Museum is under audit for the third time since 2011, reports The Nashville Post.

Deputy Director Mary Jane Crockett-Green sent an email to members of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission confirming the audit, although at least six people from the Comptroller’s office started their work the day before.

“In Chairman [Tom] Smith’s absence due to travel, I have been asked to inform you that the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury has scheduled an audit of the State Museum for the period of January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016,” Crockett-Green wrote. “In addition to re-examining the Museum’s internal controls and confirming that all statutory requirements are being met, one of the primary objectives of the audit is to ensure that the corrective actions to mediate past Findings are being appropriately implemented.”

The new audit follows months of extensive reporting by the Post on the troubled agency and its apparent lack of oversight by the state commission entrusted with those duties — and it follows two highly critical audits in January 2011 and September 2015. In addition to new problems, the latter audit found the museum had still not implemented several procedural changes deemed necessary by the former one.

 

 

 

 

 

Nepotism at the Tennessee State Museum?

Less than a year after her son resigned, Tennessee State Museum Deputy Director Mary Jane Crockett-Green’s sister came out of retirement to work for the museum, raising further questions about the agency’s hiring practices in the days before Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell retires.

So reports Nashville Post Politics. Further:

Allegations of nepotism and favoritism have long followed both Riggins-Ezzell and Crockett-Green, but now even staff within the agency is revolting, as Crockett-Green looks like a favorite to replace her boss on Jan. 1 — at least in the interim until a new, outside hire is made. The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission will meet Friday afternoon to discuss possible replacements.

Riggins-Ezzell hired Loretta Lisa Hester, Crockett-Green’s sister, this past March for a part-time job. According to DHSMC Chair Tom Smith, the position is just on a project basis to complete data entry and inventory during a deaccessioning process, and the work is of a nature no other current museum employee was qualified to handle… Per the museum’s own organizational chart, Hester is working directly under Crockett-Green — a violation of the Tennessee State Employees Uniform Nepotism Policy Act of 1980.

Smith says that he has been told Hester is working directly under Riggins-Ezzell, despite what the chart says, and that her work will wrap up by the end of the month, before her sister could possibly take over as executive director. However, employees within the agency itself say Hester reports to both women, and that it wasn’t clear for months that the two were actually related. But it is clear Riggins-Ezzell knew the women were sisters.

…Chris Crockett (Crockett-Green’s son) was hired in 2005 as a museum preparator — someone who builds and tears down installations, among other duties. At the time of his hiring, Crockett did not disclose a 1998 felony conviction for dealing drugs, or that he was still on probation for the incident; in fact, he lied on his application about it.

… Crockett had also been arrested on additional felony drug charges in 2007 (later dropped; he pleaded guilty to felony possession of a weapon). He was then arrested again for reckless driving in 2012. And on June 30, 2015, he and two other men were arrested after attempting to purchase 100 pounds of marijuana in Wilson County, a drug bust that also led to the collection of 143 grams of cocaine and over 700 pills, including more than 100 ecstasy pills. (A trial on those charges is scheduled for January.)

Legality of state museum leader’s pay raise procedure questioned

State Rep. Steve McDaniel, as chairman of the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum, apparently approved a 25 percent pay raise for Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell earlier this year and told no other board members about the move, reports Cari Wade Gervin. Some other members of the board – though all apparently agree she was underpaid — are now questioning whether the procedure was legal.

When asked why he didn’t bring up the raises during the relevant discussion of the April DHSMC meeting, much less the rest of the year’s meetings, McDaniel didn’t have a good answer.

“I didn’t think about it, to be honest. We probably should have had it on the agenda, but it just didn’t occur to me,” McDaniel said. “If I had thought to bring it up, I would have brought it up.”

When asked if he thought he had done anything wrong by approving the raises without letting anyone else on the commission know, much less discussing it with them, McDaniel seemed unconcerned.

“Did I do anything wrong? Apparently not,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know that I had to tell them, because I was acting in my role as chair.”

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Ashe asks comptroller review of museum leader’s pay raise

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum, has asked state Comptroller Justin Wilson to “review and investigate” circumstances surrounding a $23,000 boost in annual pay given in April to Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the museum’s longtime executive director.

Ashe has also questioned the propriety of a $40,000 job approved for Riggins-Ezzell that will take effect after her retirement on Dec. 31. The new position as a fundraiser was approved last week by the Tennessee state Museum Foundation (previous post HERE.).

And he says the $95,500 contract recently awarded to Carter Balwin Inc., an Atlanta-based executive search company, to seek a successor to Riggins-Ezzell seems excessive, given  that the University of Tennessee is paying $75,000 for the search for a successor to retiring UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

Excerpt from the News-Sentinel:

Riggins-Ezell began 2016 with an annual salary set at $90,216 that has been increased to $113,940 currently, according to Ashley Fuqua, public information officer for the state Department of Human Resources. Almost all that increase came in April, following a discussion of salaries at a meeting of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, as the museum oversight board is officially known.

Both Thomas Smith, current chairman of the commission, and state Rep. Steve McDaniel, who was chairman in April, say they were unaware of the Riggins-Ezell pay raise until Ashe reported the increase and raised questions about how it was approved in a series of emails to commission members and media last week.

Fuqua, however, said the department has a form – signed by McDaniel – authorizing the April salary increase. McDaniel, who earlier said he did not remember the pay raise or any action approving it, said when told of the form that he must have been mistaken.

“I still don’t recall it, but if they say I did, I guess I did,” he said in a telephone interview. McDaniel said he does recall filling out an evaluation of Riggins-Ezzell and “giving her the highest marks I possibly could.”

Ashe said he thinks the full commission should have voted on a salary increase of 25 percent and questioned whether the chairman – “if he did actually sign the form” – could act on his own. Smith said he understands that the commission chairman is entitled to approve pay raises without a commission vote, though he is still seeking more information on the situation.

… Besides getting a pay raise herself, Riggins-Ezzell also approved salary increases for two museum staffers who work closely with her – Mary Jane Crockett-Green, director of administration, and Sharon Dennis, her executive assistant. Crockett-Green got a pay raise of about 25 percent – on the same level as Riggins-Ezzell – that puts her current salary at $6,449 per month or $77,348 annually. Dennis received a pay raise of $7,716 per year – though a portion of that was a regular step increase not tied to the executive director’s approval – that makes her current annual salary $46,521.

Note: Text of Ashe’s email request to the comptroller is below.

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Retiring museum director gets $40K-per-year part-time job

Longtime Tennessee State Museum Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell will go to work for the museum’s fundraising arm when she retires Dec. 31 at a $40,000-per-year salary, reports the Nashville Post.

The board of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation voted to hire Riggins-Ezzell at a meeting Monday that included closed doors for part of the session. The Foundation is a separate entity from the board that oversees the museum itself,.

 But members of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, the actual governing body of the museum, are not so sure about the unprecedented move to to keep the 35-year veteran executive director in the same building as her yet-to-be-hired successor, even though Riggins-Ezzell will no longer be a state employee. And with the new salary, plus her state pension of around $52,000, the 76-year-old Riggins-Ezzell will actually make more than her current annual salary of $90,216.

“The Foundation is making decisions for the space that only the Commission can make,” said DHSMC member Victor Ashe. “No other state employee gets these kind of benefits when they retire. What sort of message does that send?”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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