Though a recent state attorney general opinion says donors to a $40 million fundraising campaign for the Tennessee State Museum can be kept secret, Gov. Bill Haslam — who is leading the campaign — says the names should be made public, but not the exact amount of each contribution.
The governor’s position, relayed through spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals, is criticized as “a half-baked disclosure” and likened to “being a little bit pregnant” by Victor Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor and U.S. ambassador to Poland who is a member both of the board overseeing museum operations and the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, which advocates transparency in governmental operations.
It is the latest spinoff in a long-running series of clashes over museum management and tangential issues between Ashe and fellow members of the museum oversight board, officially known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission. It does appear to be a first in that Ashe is directly differing with the governor, who is also a former Knoxville mayor.
The clashes continue otherwise, though the initial objective of Ashe’s two-year crusade on museum matters — replacement of Lois Riggins-Ezzell as the museum’s executive director — was apparently achieved last week.
Haslam and the commission’s current chairman, Thomas S. Smith of Nashville, announced Thursday the retirement effective Dec. 31 of Riggins-Ezzell, 76, who has served 35 years in the position. Ashe had accused Riggins-Ezzell of mismanagement, favoritism toward friends in acquiring museum exhibits and other faults.
Haslam said last week that “Lois has given her heart and soul to telling Tennessee’s story and showcasing its rich history” during her tenure, which has seen the museum expand from basement housing with six employees to a 42-employee operation with a $3.8 million annual budget and housing on three floors of the James K. Polk State Office Building, located a block from the state capitol.
At Haslam’s request, the Legislature has authorized construction of a new $160 million museum in a stand-alone building, scheduled to open in December of 2018. The money will come from $120 million in taxpayer funds with the remaining $40 million to be raised in private donations, with the governor spearheading the fundraising efforts. Continue reading