Tag Archives: victor ashe

Museum housing art owned by museum board member

The Tennessee State Museum houses nearly 200 works of art owned by a member of the State Museum Commission, which oversees the museum, reports WTVF.

The arrangement has raised concerns from another commission member about whether taxpayers are paying to store privately owned art — despite limited space and staff at the museum.

Commissioner Walter Knestrick is a longtime collector of the works of Tennessee artist Red Grooms. Many of the Grooms paintings that he owns are located at the Tennessee State Museum.

“Taxpayers should not pay for the storage for paintings which are privately held and no date for a final donation has been determined,” Commissioner Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

But the longtime executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, passionately defended the arrangement.

Riggins-Ezzell disputed criticism from Ashe, but was occasionally told to watch her comments by the museum’s media relations person who sat in on the interview.

“There’s no bad use of public money,” Riggins-Ezzell insisted. “There’s no bad use of manipulating a system to help an old rich man.”

…Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “Taxpayers should not pay for the staff time to select and package privately owned items out of state.”

Riggins-Ezzell responded, “I certainly have great respect for the concerns Mr. Ashe may have. We simply are seldom on the same page.”

…Riggins-Ezell said the museum is fortunate that Knestrick loaned the art to the museum and is now in talks to gift them.

“What a gift this is for the citizens of Tennessee. Who would want for the citizens of Tennessee not to have this in perpetuity?”” Riggins-Ezzell asked.

But currently there is no written agreement between Knestrick and the state for him to donate the paintings.

Until that time, Ashe said, its wrong they are stored, insured and displayed at museum expense.

Riggins-Ezzell said the paintings don’t cost the state more to insure because it has a blanket policy.

She said Knestrick and the Tennessee Attorney General are working on an official agreement to donate the works of art.

TN State Museum audit prepared, policy changes eyed

An audit of the Tennessee State Museum has been completed and will be presented to members of the museum’s board of directors at a scheduled meeting in Memphis on Oct. 5, according to a spokesman for Comptroller Justin Wilson.

The spokesman, John Dunn, said in a copy of the draft audit by the state comptroller’s office has been provided to the museum management, including Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell, for a response to findings. In accord with auditing policies, he declined to provide any information on those findings in advance.

But former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe said he understands informally that one curious finding is that the museum management keeps alcoholic beverages on hand without properly securing them.

“I didn’t even know we had alcohol there,” said Ashe, a member of the board officially known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission.
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Ashe alleges TN museum mismanagement in art buys, criminal hires

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe contends the Tennessee State Museum is being mismanaged, suggesting a bias against East and West Tennessee in the purchase of art exhibits and pointing to criminal charges filed against two employees this year, among other things.

The focus of Ashe’s criticism as a member and former chairman of the board overseeing museum operations is Lois Riggins-Ezzell, 75, executive director since 1981 and now heavily engaged in planning a new $160 million museum, scheduled to open in December 2018.

Another critic echoes Ashe on the contention that Riggins-Ezell has shown a geographic bias toward people in the Nashville area in art purchases, including two cases involving artists with political ties.

Ashe, 70, says Riggins-Ezzell should be replaced in her $90,000-per-year position and a new executive director brought aboard to oversee preparations for the new museum, which hinge on raising more than $40 million in private funds to go with $120 million in Legislature-approved state spending proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam.

Riggins-Ezzell declared last week she intends to remain “as long as I can” and, joined by three staff members in an interview session, disputed Ashe’s allegations and said the claims have left her angry and emotional at times.

She also vigorously asserted her ability to continue leadership of a museum that has progressed from “six employees in the basement of the War Memorial Building” when she took the job to its present status with 42 employees and $3.8 million in annual state funding, not counting donations from the private sector.
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Delayed Alexander exhibit may be cancelled entirely by State Museum

The Tennessee State Museum’s plans for a statewide traveling exhibit on Lamar Alexander’s service as governor, initially scheduled to coincide with his U.S. Senate re-election campaign last year and then rescheduled, may now be canceled entirely.

Lois Riggins-Ezzell, executive director of the museum, announced in August 2013 that the museum was postponing the exhibit, probably until 2015. The move came after complaints the exhibit could be seen as using taxpayer dollars to promote Alexander as he sought re-election to the Senate during 2014 — though Riggins-Ezzell said she viewed the exhibit as “contemporary history” and politics never crossed her mind.

In response to an inquiry, museum spokeswoman Mary Skinner said last week that the development of plans for a new state museum mean the exhibit will not go on the road this year and perhaps not at all.

The Legislature earlier this year approved $120 million in state funding for a new museum at Gov. Bill Haslam’s urging and the museum is organizing a campaign to raise $40 million in private funds to go with the state money. The goal is to have the new museum open in December 2018.

“Museum curators and interpreters will be busy working on preparing curatorial packages for the exhibits design company, who will be hired in November,” Skinner said in an email. “This work will be ongoing for the next couple of years. Therefore we decided to cancel or postpone work on new traveling exhibits. This included the Alexander exhibit.”
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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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AG opinion sought on county commissioners’ salary snafu

Victor Ashe, who as a state senator sponsored a 1975 law on county commission salaries, says the measure should have been repealed after an amendment to the state constitution that was approved two years later. But it’s still on the books and now may mean salary increases — and thousands of dollars in back pay – for county commissioners in Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties.

So reports the Times-Free Press:

Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said he’s writing state lawmakers to ask Attorney General Herbert Slatery III to settle a question about what part of state law set the commission’s salaries here. The answer could mean a $4,000-a-year difference to current commissioners plus, possibly, a chunk of change in back pay.

The law in use now in Hamilton County dates back to 1978. It sets salaries at $3,600 a year, with discretion for increases. After 37 years, and several legislative actions, rank-and-file commissioners now are paid $21,902 annually.

A recently discovered 1975 law says they — along with Knox and Sullivan counties — should have been making $25,000 the whole time.

A salary of $25,000 in 1975 had the same buying power as about $109,071 in today’s terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the man who wrote that law said Wednesday it was meant for three commissioners who were running an entire county government, and was never intended for perpetuity.

Victor Ashe, former Knoxville mayor, Tennessee senator and U.S. ambassador, said the 1975 law was only meant for three special commissioners in Knox County, and should have gone away in 1978.

“We had a hyphenated government. We had a county judge and a quarterly court that set the tax rates, and a three-member commission that ran day-to-day government. There was a roads commissioner, a welfare commissioner and a finance commissioner,” Ashe said Wednesday.

The legislation, which he sponsored as a state senator along with then-Rep. Sandra Clark, was tailored for Knox County, the only one at the time with “county commissioners.” Davidson County had already formed a metropolitan government with Nashville, and the others had county councils or quarterly courts.

And according to Ashe, the 1975 law should have gone away when county governments across the state were revamped by a constitutional convention. But that didn’t happen.

“It would seem to be an inapplicable law that needs to be repealed. It’s irrelevant in today’s Tennessee,” he said.

The story of state Sens. Martha and Victor Ashe

In two recent columns, Victor Ashe tells the story of how his mother, Martha Ashe, wound up serving in the state Senate back in 1974 – basically to hold the seat for him until he reached age 30, the minimum age for a senator as established in the Tennessee constitution.

It worked. Victor Ashe subsequently took his mother’s Senate seat and went on to a career that has included stints of mayor of Knoxville, Republican U.S. Senate nominee, U.S. ambassador to Poland and, currently, columnist in the Shopper-News.

The first column is HERE; the second HERE. Recommended reading for political junkies and Tennessee history buffs.

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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