House votes to keep hiring of TN museum director behind closed doors

Hiring procedures for the controversial state museum commission will be shielded from public oversight under a bill approved by the House Monday night, reports The Tennessean. The vote was 71-20 – the no votes including four Knoxville Republicans along with 16 Democrats.

“The museum commission has not requested this, at least not by public vote,” said Victor Ashe, a member of the board that oversees museum operations and former mayor of Knoxville. “The commission, as a board, is in the dark on this.”

The bill (HB641), sponsored by Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, requires that “information in the selection process for the position of director at the Tennessee State Museum be treated as confidential and that meetings pertaining to confidential information not be subject to open meetings.” (Note: McDaniel is a member of the commission and former chairman; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, the Senate sponsor, is also a commission member.)

…He described the current process of complying with open meetings laws as cumbersome to both the search committee and those seeking the job. McDaniel said the current laws discourage top-level talent from applying because they do not want their current employers to see they are seeking new employment. The museum recently announced the hiring the new executive director, Ashley Howell, in January. McDaniel served as the chairman of the search committee.

“We didn’t want to hide anything, but we didn’t want people losing their job because they were looking at a position we were seeking to fill with the best candidate possible,” McDaniel said.

The museum is no stranger to controversy as it prepares to move into its new $160 million facility. Hiring and spending procedures have come under the microscope at the same time their controversial former executive director Lois Riggins-Ezzell announced her retirement last December.

State Comptroller Justin Wilson ordered a special audit of the museum operations due to an alleged improper pay raise to Riggins-Ezzell authorized by McDaniel.

One Response to House votes to keep hiring of TN museum director behind closed doors

  • Betty Sands says:

    The reasons given in support of this action also apply to the hiring of Director of Schools in every Tennessee school system, particularly in the urban counties. Current laws prevent top-level talent from applying because they do not want their current employers to know they are seeking new employment. School Boards don’t want to hide anything, but they don’t want people losing their jobs by applying for a position school boards are trying to fill with top talent. The legislature should also make hiring of Directors of Schools confidential.

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