Category Archives: victor ashe

Ashe, Haslam differ on museum donation disclosure

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

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.


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.
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Victor Ashe on Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade’s resignation

Victor Ashe opines in a Shopper-News column that the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade was “unexpected and disappointing to many of his supporters and donors” and “raises many questions that are largely unanswered.”

Sources in Sevier County had heard rumors of his retirement months ago but did not take them seriously. This writer heard them, too, but could not verify them. Wade was reported to have said serving on the court now was not as much fun as it used to be.

Wade also has said when the court was challenged by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey he would not retire and leave under pressure. Now he is leaving on his own terms. Perhaps that is the real reason. Who knows?

However, no one knows whom Gov. Haslam may appoint to replace Wade (that will be a subject of a future column). We do know the Wade vacancy will last five to six months. The court will have only four justices on Sept. 9. The court also meets then to hear cases. Had Wade opted to remain on the court to the convening of the General Assembly on Jan. 13, 2016, that lengthy vacancy could have been avoided.

A recent state constitutional amendment provides that the General Assembly must confirm the governor’s choice….. March 13, 2016, may be the earliest a nominee can be seated to perform his or her duties.

Wade should have waited at least until 2016 to resign to prevent such a long vacancy on the court that he once led as chief justice. What was the rush to depart four weeks from now?

With $160M new TN museum coming, boards deal with controversies

The Tennessee State Museum is dealing with controversies ranging from a former employee’s alleged theft of $62,000 to the removal of two foundation board members who questioned several of the museum’s acquisitions procedures, reports Richard Locker.

The museum has two boards — one an oversight board that will receive $120 million under Gov. Bill Haslam’s current state budget and the other a foundation board will be involved in trying to raise $40 million in private money to go with the taxpayer funds toward construction of a new museum.

When the oversight board holds its quarterly meeting Monday, members will get their first briefing on plans for the new structure and, presumably, about the fundraising drive. Details of the campaign have not been publicly unveiled, but former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the board since its creation in 2010, says the drive should be transparent, with contributions made public.

Ashe, who has also raised questions about the museum’s operations during his tenure, asked that a presentation on the new museum be added to Monday’s agenda after an earlier draft made no mention of it. An update by the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate, was added.

…The private fundraising drive will launch without two veteran members of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation board who were not renominated for new terms last month: private-investment banker Charles Cook and lawyer Henry Walker, both of Nashville. Cook was also a member of the oversight board, but he was ineligible for reappointment when his term ended June 30.

In 2013, at Cook’s request, Walker reviewed a series of $1,000-or-more purchases of art and artifacts by museum staff and concluded, according to his written report, that up to 11 purchases over a 10-month period appeared to violate one or more of the museum’s acquisition policies, including lack of prior approval by a three-person committee and lack of “justification letters,” both of which are required for a purchase of $1,000 or more.

Cook also wrote a December 2013 memo to the museum’s executive director, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, questioning whether the staff’s purchase of a painting by a Nashville artist who served on the governor’s New Museum Task Force might have violated the museum’s code of ethics and the acquisition policy.

…Asked whether she expressed an opinion about Cook and Walker, Ezzell said, “I can’t recall everything that was said, but if I was asked, I think they were critical — consistently critical.

“I had a board that believed in this museum, believed in its vision 100 percent. I had no dissenters on that board. I had no one that didn’t believe in what we were doing, and as some new people were added from time to time, there was some dissension … and that is not productive. If you’ve got 90 percent that believes in the management and the vision — I’d say 95, 98 — and you have 2 percent that doesn’t believe that strongly, is it better to get rid of the 90 or 98 percent that does believe and has been there 10, 15, 20 and 25 years or the 1 percent that’s been there a year or two years, that has come in with a new vision that may not have been the vision embraced in the past?”

The 15-member oversight board, called the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission in honor of the retired state senator and longtime museum champion, is also waiting to hear whether Davidson County prosecutors will file charges against and seek restitution from a former museum administrative services assistant who state auditors last year concluded took nearly $62,000 in taxpayer money: $49,477 through phony invoice payments for artifacts to a fictitious company and $12,416 for a rental car billed to the museum for 15 months.

Note: Andy Sher did a similar story in the Times-Free Press. Non-duplicative excerpt below.
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Victor Ashe reports on monitoring Ukraine elections

A recent election in Ukraine shows the country is aligned more with Western Europe than Russia, according to a former Knoxville mayor who traveled there to observe the balloting, reports the News sentinel.

Victor Ashe, who also has been an ambassador to Poland, told the News Sentinel about his experience in Ukraine via an international phone conversation Thursday.

A pro-Russian rebellion began in eastern Ukraine in April, inspired by Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula weeks before.

Since then, bloody fights and cease-fires have happened between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that international sanctions on his country in response to the occupation could threaten global stability.

Ashe said the results of the election he and others helped observe Oct. 26 brought the first parliament in years without a Communist in office.

“It’s a repudiation of an effort to intimidate the Ukranian people,” Ashe said. “Ukraine wants to be Ukraine, and doesn’t want to be an adjunct of Putin’s Russia.”

He said he observed elections in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, and that the process went smoothly. He co-chaired a delegation with Iveta Radicová, former prime minister of Slovakia, that observed more than 150 polling stations.

A news release from The International Republican Institute said that elections were held everywhere except for two cities where Russian-backed militants prevented voting, and in Crimea, where Russia still illegally occupies Ukrainian territory.

Note: The IRI news release is below.
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