Tennessee State Museum

TN State Museum board votes to impose ‘gag order’ (Victor Ashe’s description) on its members

The governing board of the Tennessee State Museum has adopted a “astonishingly broad new code of conduct” that restricts board members’ public commentary on museum affairs, reports the Nashville Post.

The new code, which was adopted without much discussion Monday morning, was emailed to members at 1 a.m. Sunday, less than 36 hours before the vote. Although state law dictates the DHSMC (Douglas Henry State Museum Commission) should “promulgate rules and regulations” in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (as it is spelled out in state law), DHSMC chair Tom Smith said “operating policies” are not subject to the UAPA and thus do not need to go through the state’s lengthy notice process in advance of hearings for rule changes.

Although Smith stated repeatedly the changes to the code of conduct were not singling out any one individual commissioner, the new regulations seem specifically designed to target one particular DHSMC member — Victor Ashe, who was just reappointed to the commission for another four years and has been a regular critic of some of the commission’s recent actions.

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McNally appoints ‘watchdog’ Victor Ashe to new term on state museum board

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who has clashed repeatedly with other members of the board governing the Tennessee State Museum in the past, was appointed Friday to a new four-year term on the panel by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

Further from the News Sentinel:

McNally, who shares appointments to the board formally known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission with House Speaker Beth Harwell, also reappointed Nancy Baker De Friece, a Bristol realtor. The old terms of both expired Friday; their new terms began Saturday.

“He’s had a great public service record – as a legislator, as a mayor, as an ambassador – and he’s also been a strong advocate of the public’s right to know,” said McNally when asked about the Ashe appointment.  “Certainly, as a watchdog, he has few people who are his equal…. And we definitely need someone from Knox County on the board.”

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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.

TN State Museum gets new executive director

News release from Tennessee State Museum

Nashville, TN — February 7, 2017— The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission announced today that Tennessee native Ashley Howell has accepted the position of executive director of the Tennessee State Museum. The commission voted to offer Howell the position at its meeting on January 24. She succeeds long serving director Lois Riggins Ezzell who retired December 31.

“Ashley Howell will bring a new level of leadership to the Tennessee State Museum,” Commission Chairman Tom Smith said. “I am confident she is the right choice at the right time. Her background in all aspects of museum management will serve us well, and her ties to Tennessee make her an ideal choice as we prepare for the new museum’s opening late next year.”

Howell, 40, currently serves as the deputy director of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

TN political news and opinion roundup Jan. 8, 2017

The legislative session that begins Tuesday is the focus of much Tennessee media reporting in recent days. A sampler:

Legislative issue overviews

This week’s legislative meetings will be devoted to organization matters, followed by a recess until Jan. 30, when Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his “state-of-the-state” speech. But there’s a pile of proposals awaiting action afterwards — a gas tax increase, cuts in other state taxes, a big budget surplus, school vouchers, Sunday liquor sales, de-annexation, school bus seat belts, bathroom bills, etc. Andy Sher’s roundup is HERE; Sam Stockard’s list of main issues is HERE.

McNally profiled

The Tennessean has a well-done profile on Sen. Randy McNally, who will replace Ron Ramsey as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor on opening day.

The two have similar political backgrounds — they rose through the ranks over a long period of time — and are natural leaders. But in other ways, the differences are stark. Both have their own specialties.

“A lot of times in baseball you need to follow the guy that throws at 100 miles an hour with the guy that throws the circle change-up 75 miles an hour,” said Brad Todd, a longtime political consultant who has worked closely with both men.

McNally’s ascension this week will be the culminating act for a man who has commanded respect through his dedication to a life of public service that began in the muddy streets of Oak Ridge.

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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.)

TN museum fundraising chair resigns over $40K fundraising gig for retiree

The longtime chair of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation, Bobby Thomas, has resigned that position after the board voted to hire outgoing museum Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell for a $40,000-per-year job, reports Nashville Post Politics. The foundation is a n0n-profit group that raises money for the museum and recently voted — with Thomas absent — to give Riggins-Ezzell a post-retirement job as fundraiser with unspecified duties.

“It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve on the Tennessee State Museum Foundation Board for over twenty-six years and as your Chair for the last six years,” Thomas wrote in an email sent to board members Monday. “At the age of 75, I believe it is time for new leadership to guide the Foundation’s fundraising and other activities for the new museum and beyond. Accordingly, I hereby resign my position as Chair effective December 31, 2016. I do look forward to continuing to serve the Foundation as a Board member.”

But in a conversation with the Post, Thomas confirmed his resignation was about more than his age.

“I want to say first that I believe strongly in the Tennessee State Museum, its mission and its people,” Thomas said. “I resigned because the executive committee of the Foundation board and I are no longer of the same mind, and I believe they are entitled to have someone else lead the Foundation.

“First, I agreed with the decision of the [Douglas Henry State] Museum Commission to ask Lois Riggins-Ezzell to retire and to bring in a new director of the museum who can be involved in the planning of our exciting new building. Second, I did not agree with the Foundation’s decision to hire Lois following her retirement from the museum. I have nothing but praise for the work Lois has done at the museum, but I do not think it a prudent use of the Foundation’s money, which is raised through donations, to pay Lois $40,000 a year as a fundraiser when the Foundation is already paying a professional fundraising firm. The executive committee of the Foundation disagreed with me on both of those issues, and therefore I decided to step down.”

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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