State museum commission repeals controversial code of conduct

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission voted Monday to repeal controversial policy changes adopted in July that some state legislators saw as an attempt to muzzle critics, reports the Nashville Post.

The policies included a “code of conduct” that prevented commission members from maligning the Tennessee State Museum or its staff and required notification before a member spoke to the press. It also outlined a process to force the resignation of a commissioner who didn’t abide by the policies — something at odds with the state law that specifies how commissioners are appointed.

The method by which the changes had been adopted had also come under criticism from state legislators, who said the DHSMC should have followed the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act to change the by-laws, a process that takes several months. At a hearing of the Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee in August, legislators grilled a defensive DHSMC head Tom Smith over the changes. (Previous post HERE.)

However, by Monday Smith and other commission members had put their defensiveness aside, deciding first in a by-laws committee meeting to re-address policy changes after further study of best practices by other museums and state agencies. In the full meeting, they then voted without much discussion to repeal the changes, keeping only a provision to provide eight days of notice instead of 48 hours in the case of an emergency commission meeting.

Victor Ashe, frequently an outspoken critic of past mismanagement at the museum who had said the policy changes were directed at silencing him, is now a member of the by-laws committee, so any future changes are likely to be less controversial. Smith also said if the group does decide to update its policies next year, it will go through UAPA — a move certain to please legislators.

And keeping legislators happy is going to be very key for the commission and the museum staff as they seek approval for next year’s budget, which will almost double in size.

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