State museum board to seek new leader

The Tennessee State Museum’s governing board agreed Monday to begin the process for replacing longtime executive director Lois Riggins-Ezzell after a new performance audit of the museum raised concerns about the lack of a succession plan while a new $160 million museum is under development, reports Richard Locker.

Riggins-Ezzell has led the museum for 34 years and most of her senior management staff have also been in place for several years. The state Legislature in April approved $120 million in public funding for a new museum building on the state’s Bicentennial Capitol Mall in Nashville, to replace cramped quarters in three basement levels of a state office building where it’s been for nearly 30 years. Gov. Bill Haslam is leading an effort to raise another $40 million in private donations.

“One of the things that was significant (in the audit) that caused us pause is that we don’t have a succession plan,” museum commission member Tom Smith said during a meeting of the commission in Memphis. “Lois has made no secret that she’s going to retire. With the new museum, it makes perfect sense for this commission to discuss a succession plan.”

Smith and state Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, the museum commission chairman, plan a meeting for Oct. 27 with other state officials on the process for selecting a search firm to carry out a national search for a new executive director. Riggins-Ezzell has not said when she plans to retire but told reporters this summer she hopes to remain on board, while helping transition to a new director, until the new museum’s targeted opening in 2018.

…The commission also approved new guidelines for acquisitions for the museum drafted by its acquisitions committee Chairwoman Deanie Parker of Memphis. Ashe has criticized the museum staff for acquiring most of its art and artifacts from Middle Tennessee sources, with considerably fewer from East and West Tennessee.

Further. excerpting from an Andy Sher story:

Commission member Victor Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor who has been critical of Riggins-Ezzell and has openly called for her replacement, said in an interview later that “I’m cautiously optimistic that this will result in needed change.”

But he added that “until I see it happening, it hasn’t happened. I’m pleased the commission is moving in the right direction.” He said a proper search could take six to eight months.

…Bob Thomas, the Museum Foundation’s chairman, on Monday applauded the move to begin finding a successor.

“I feel the commission moved forward in a positive way regarding the succession plan. I’m happy with what they decided.”

Thomas also serves on Haslam’s new seven-member steering committee which is charged with raising the $40 million in private funds.