New museum plans unveiled, new leadership debated

Tennessee State Museum commissioners on Monday saw a conceptual design presentation for a new $160 million facility before later arguing over how quickly to replace the museum’s longtime director, Lois Riggins-Ezzell.

Further, from the Times-Free Press:

Meanwhile, Riggins-Ezzell was named a non-voting member of the very search committee named to replace her. She later told reporters she doesn’t want to leave the post she’s held for 35 years.

“I want to help the new museum,” Riggins-Ezzell said, later adding, “I want to stay. I am the museum director.”

Earlier, members of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission heard from presentations from project coordinator Mark Cate, former chief of staff to Gov. Bill Haslam.

The governor is taking the lead role on raising $40 million that will supplement a $120 million state appropriation approved last year for the facility. The new building will replace the current museum housed in the basement of the James K. Polk State Office Building. Work is scheduled to begin this spring.

Museum commissioners also heard from Patrick Gallagher, president of Gallagher & Associates, whose firm is designing the exhibit experience for the 50,000-square-foot building that will go up on the state’s Bicentennial Mall near the state Capitol.

“This could easily be a multi-day experience for visitors,” said Gallagher, as he described various galleries with artifacts and interactive displays outlining Tennessee history, culture and more.

He also presented conceptual drawings, which officials stressed were not yet set in concrete.

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Commissioners later followed up on their October meeting where they agreed to begin a succession plan for Riggins-Ezzell.

A state comptroller’s performance audit last year raised concerns about the lack of a succession plan while the new $160 million museum is under development. Riggins-Ezzell, meanwhile, has come under criticism for some actions and has been accused of engineering the removal of two members of the Tennessee Museum Foundation, who had raised operational and other concerns.

The foundation is the chief fundraising arm of the museum for purchases of historical artifacts and art.

Haslam’s Human Resources Department is helping commissioners structure the search, as well as aiding the museum on new workforce planning.

Still further, from the News Sentinel:

Hunter and Deputy Commissioner Trish Holliday said they tentatively plan to begin the process of finding a successor to Riggins-Ezzell by holding workshops for commission members in May. At one point, Holliday, who will be coordinating between the commission and the department, suggested that a timetable would call for the new director being in place by early 2018.

After Ashe questioned such a long process, Hunter and Holliday quickly said that was a case of “misspeaking.” The department will leave all timetables in the search to the commission, they said, with department officials simply offering advice and assistance in the process.

Ashe, during a commission break, said the search process could be completed with no problem by the end of this year.

“The University of Tennessee has been able to hire a new president in less than a year and we ought to be about to do the same,” he said. “We need to move on.”

Further, Ashe voiced opposition to the idea of having both the new director serve some period of time jointly with Riggins-Ezzell. He compared that notion to former Gov. Phil Bredesen keeping an office at the state capitol to offer advice after Gov. Bill Haslam’s inauguration.

Smith, overhearing Ashe, told reporters the remarks indicated a “personal vendetta” against Riggins-Ezzell. He also contended media reporting of Ashe’s comments would indicate a vendetta as well and unfairly detract from “this wonderful meeting.”

Ashe said he has no vendetta and was simply offering his opinion on best management practices.

Officially, Commission Chairman Steve McDaniel, who is also deputy speaker of the state House, appointed a search committee — with Smith as chairman — to look into the proper process of hiring a new director and make a recommendation to the full commission.

Ashe noted that the committee has no East Tennessee members and also objected to McDaniel naming Riggins-Ezzell as an “ex-offcio” or non-voting member.

“That is outside the norm and raises the potential for all sorts of conflicts,” Ashe said.

McDaniel said he saw no conflict in Riggins-Ezzell serving on the search committee. Instead, he said her long experience and knowledge of existing museum operations should be valuable.

Both Smith and McDaniel would offer no suggestions on their idea of a timetable. Riggins- Ezzell said she would like to stay on as long as possible, certainly until the new museum opens.

The commission also engaged in a related debate over approval of the minutes from the panel’s last meeting in October. A draft copy of the October minutes — circulated to commission members earlier via email — made no mention of discussion of planning for replacing Riggins-Ezzell, though Ashe and fellow Commissioner Robert Buchanan, president of The Tennessee Historical Society, both noted that there was such a discussion.

Buchanan proposed revisions to the minutes to incorporate those comments, expressing regret that staff had not already done so. After some discussion, McDaniel appointed another committee to review the October minutes and consider revisions and bring back a report to the full commission at its April meeting, where approval of the October minutes will be back on the agenda.

Note: See also WTVF-TV, HERE.