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Leadership Issues Dominate State Museum Commission Meeting

Leadership Issues Dominate State Museum Commission Meeting
Posted at 7:38 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-18 00:17:15-05

Questions about how long the executive director of the Tennessee State Museum will stay on the job overshadowed a meeting in which commission members saw the first renderings of the new museum.

The Tennessee State Museum Commission held its board meeting Monday and heard from consultants about floor plans and the look of the new museum.

It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018 and will be located by the Bicentennial Mall near the Farmer's Market.

But the meeting took a turn when members talked about the search for a new executive director.

Lois Riggins-Ezzell has held the job for 35 years.

She told NewsChannel 5 Investigates in September that she had no plans to leave.

"I want to stay as long as possible to see this museum become a reality. We've all worked for it and we all want to see it happen," Riggins-Ezzell said.

Monday, the commission named a three-person search committee to begin the process of finding a new executive director, but during a break tempers flared over how long that search will take.

"Victor, with all due respect let's stop this," said Commission Member Tom Smith during the break.

Commission member Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that a new executive director should be in place by the end of this year.

"The ground breaking will be in April. That new person needs to be able to have input in the design and the construction," Ashe said.

Smith will chair the search committee and said that timetable is not realistic.

"There's no effort to drag our feet here. We just have to work through the normal state government process," Smith said.

Riggins-Ezzell was defensive when we interviewed her in September about why the museum has nearly 200 paintings by the artist Red Grooms, all of which are owned by newly appointed commission member Walter Knestrick.

"There's no bad use of public money," Riggins-Ezzell said. "There's no bad use of manipulating a system to help an old rich man."

Ashe said private paintings should not be stored at taxpayer expense.

Knestrick and the state have worked for nearly a year to come up with a plan to officially donate the paintings to the museum, but at this meeting commission members heard again that no agreement was in place.

"It ought to happen, and again that's something for the executive director to be working. Is she pushing? I don't know to what degree she is or isn't," Ashe said.

This new museum will cost taxpayers $120 million.

Another $40 million from private fundraising.

Lois Riggins Ezzell declined to be interview Monday.