Victor Ashe

Bell, Faison question validity of new state museum code of conduct

Chairmen of General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee are questioning the legality of the new operating policies adopted by the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission last week (including a controversial new ‘code of conduct,’ reports the Nashville Post.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the chairs of the committee, sent a letter to DHSMC chair Tom Smith and museum executive director Ashley Howell on Tuesday stating that the changes in the operating policies — including the controversial new code of conduct that prevents board members from disparaging the museum — should have been adopted in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, as it is spelled out in state law.

… “In light of the statutory authority, and in accordance with the past practices of the Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee, we strongly believe that the attached operating policies clearly meet the definition of a rule, and that those policies must be promulgates in accordance with the UAPA.”

(Note: Museum officials contend the new policy is an operating procedure and thus not a “rule,” which is subject to requirements of the UAPA, including advance notice, a public hearing, etc.)

In an interview, Bell said that he thinks the language of the enacting clause creating the DHSMC requires anything relating to the governance of the agency should fall under the UAPA.

“I have issues with the substance of the policies as well, and I know other legislators have been commenting about that,” Bell said. “But I’m very concerned with the process here, which I do not think was followed correctly.”

The new code of conduct seems designed to silence board member Victor Ashe, a former legislator and Knoxville mayor who has been a recent critic of several missteps of the board. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally criticized it last week, expressing “serious concerns.” However, DHSMC members and legislators House Speaker Beth Harwell, now a gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) and Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) all voted in support of the policy changes.

“[Commissioners] are free to talk to anyone they want to talk to and say anything they want to say. That’s still the case,” said Harwell after the meeting.

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

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