Museum board opens meeting on ‘succession planning’

In a change of plans, the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum will hold an open meeting for discussion of procedures in selection of a new museum executive director rather closing the session to the public.

Tom Smith of Nashville, who chairs a museum board committee on “succession planning,” initially announced the March 28 “workshop” would last eight hours and would be held behind closed doors.

That brought a protest last month from former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission as well as the board of directors for the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, and Smith recently notified members that the plan had been changed.

“We are retooling the session to take out the items related to all museum personnel and instead just have a session related to strengths we envision in a new executive director,” Smith wrote in an email. “Since we won’t be working on all of the museum’s personnel analysis we can and will make this an ‘open meeting’ and all who care to can attend.”

Ashe, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, lauded the change.

“I’m glad it’s been reconsidered and now at least this part of the process is transparent,” Ashe said in an interview.

The revised plan calls for a four-hour meeting instead of an eight-hour one, according to Smith’s email.

“The agenda will be set by the state Department of Human Resources and will be their agenda based on their workforce planning model. We will be participants and they will manage the workshop and the discussion,” he wrote.

There will also be an update from Mark Cate on progress toward building a new $160 million state museum and the effort to raise $40 million in private funds to go with $120 million in state money. Cate, formerly chief of staff to Gov. Bill Haslam, is serving as project manager for the new museum.

Cate said in an email that Haslam has begun “reaching out to potential donors,” though he declined to say how much has been raised or provide other details at this time.

“As with any project and fundraising campaign, there will be a variety of progress updates, events and announcements along the way. We don’t have any announcements to make at this point,” Cate wrote.

Groundbreaking for the new museum is scheduled for April 6. The museum board has scheduled a meeting for April 10.

Ashe said he remains concerned that the museum board is moving “almost at a snail’s pace” toward seeking a successor to Lois Riggins-Ezzell as executive director. Ashe, who has clashed with Riggins-Ezzell on some museum management issues, said new leadership should be in place during the fundraising and construction phase.