State museum moves, slowly, toward semi-replacement of Riggins-Ezzell

Eleven months after the decision was made to replace Lois Riggins-Ezzell, 76, as the longtime executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, there is finally a tentative timeline for the future hire to start as work toward a new $160 million state-of the-art museum building is underway.

In a comprehensive Nashville Post update on the the museum situation, Cari Wade Gervin also reports the new tentative timeline is already behind schedule, that initial efforts in seeking applicants for the new executive director’s position drew little or no response and that management experts think it’s a really bad idea to keep Riggins-Ezell on the job after her successor is hired, as planned.

An excerpt:

“Are we going to have two different directors and pay double salaries? To oversee 40 people? That is ridiculous,” says Victor Ashe, the former state legislator and Knoxville mayor who serves on the Douglas Henry Tennessee State Museum Commission.

…In October of 2015, the commission finally voted to initiate a search for her successor.

At the time, it was estimated a search might take “six to eight months.” But the search committee — which includes Riggins-Ezzell in an ex-officio capacity, contrary to best industry practice — has missed multiple deadlines over the past 11 months.

A March 31 memo from Danielle Barnes, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources, outlines a sample timeline. According to the memo, a request for information for an executive search firm would be issued on April 1, which could result in the hiring of such a firm being complete by Aug. 1. But the RFI, which was reissued again on May 1 due to an initial low response rate, received only three responses over the six-week period, despite being also sent to nine of the top museum recruitment agencies in the country — none of which responded.

At the July 21 meeting of the search committee, the members set another timeline. They asked Human Resources to issue an official request for proposals for a search firm by Aug. 1 (that has not yet been issued)…so they could hopefully hire a new executive director before Christmas, with a ideal start date of March 1, 2017 — 18 months out from the estimated December 2018 opening of the new museum.

…The Post was eventually permitted to listen to a recording of the July 21 meeting… Near the end of the recording, (Commission member Deanie) Parker makes a motion to adopt the timeline as described above, which passes unanimously. Then Parker asks, when the new person is hired, which of the two directors will have what responsibilities?

“How does this play out? Who does what?” Parker asks.

State. Rep. Charles Sargent, one of two legislators on the search committee along with Rep. Steve McDaniel, responds that he hopes an official delineation of responsibilities is not necessary.

“I hope that the new person that we hire will understand that we have a director that’s been a director for years, and [the new hire]’s coming in ahead of time to learn the knowledge that [Riggins-Ezzell] has and also the knowledge of what the board is looking for, and I don’t think it’s a matter of who has authority where, I think it’s a matter of their work as one,” Sargent says. “I don’t look for a dispute to come up. … I hope we don’t get someone that’s going to come in and say, ‘This is mine, and I’m going to be the dictator.’ If we do, we probably picked the wrong person.”

Riggins-Ezzell chimes in.

“You’ll also have me on the search committee,” Riggins-Ezzell says. “I’ve been in the museum business for 40 years. I know the kind of director we need. I have a vision. It’s y’all’s decision, but I have the kind of vision, and it’s a huge learning curve. … I would liken it to the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor working together.”

…Yet so far, at least, Riggins-Ezzell’s continued presence has not hurt fundraising efforts, says Bobby Thomas, the head of the foundation’s board.

“I have heard nobody talk to me about those kinds of concerns,” says Thomas. “I think we have a win-win, if Lois stays on. Both her and the new director can complement fundraising.”

However, Riggins-Ezzell has not been a regular invitee to many of the series of luncheons than Haslam has been co-hosting at the governor’s mansion with Bredesen, although she does appear in a video that is shown.

“Some of these are other people—we’re trying to reach out and bring in new donors,” Haslam says. “Raising $40 million is really, really hard work, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Haslam declined to say how much money the effort has raised so far, only that there would be an announcement later this fall. He also declined comment on whether Riggins-Ezzell should stay on in a paid position until the museum opens.

“I’ll trust the board to make that decision,” Haslam said. “Lois brings a lot of history and a lot of understanding of what exhibits have drawn attention.”