McNally appoints ‘watchdog’ Victor Ashe to new term on state museum board

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who has clashed repeatedly with other members of the board governing the Tennessee State Museum in the past, was appointed Friday to a new four-year term on the panel by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

Further from the News Sentinel:

McNally, who shares appointments to the board formally known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission with House Speaker Beth Harwell, also reappointed Nancy Baker De Friece, a Bristol realtor. The old terms of both expired Friday; their new terms began Saturday.

“He’s had a great public service record – as a legislator, as a mayor, as an ambassador – and he’s also been a strong advocate of the public’s right to know,” said McNally when asked about the Ashe appointment.  “Certainly, as a watchdog, he has few people who are his equal…. And we definitely need someone from Knox County on the board.”

In his first term on the commission, Ashe was outspoken in criticizing Lois Riggins-Ezzell, who had served as the museum’s executive director since 1981, on matters ranging from staff hiring practices to what Ashe saw as Riggins-Ezzell’s preference toward purchase of art and other museum exhibits from Middle Tennessee rather than East and West Tennessee.

Riggins-Ezzell retired effective Dec. 31 with Ashley Howell, formerly deputy director of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, named in February to succeed her.

…“I think this can be an exciting time for the museum with a new director and a new building,” Ashe said in a telephone interview. “Ashley Howell, after five months, has already set a new tone and direction for the museum which is really refreshing.”

…The Legislature in 2015 approved $120 million in state funds for building a new state museum – construction is underway — with the proviso that another $40 million would be raised through private donations to cover the projected $160 million total cost.

…Ashe repeated his past call for the names of those donating to the museum and the amount donated to be made public as well as periodic disclosure of the amount raised. (Mark Cate, project manager for the new museum, says fundraisers have commitments for “about half” the $40 million and more information, including amounts and donors, will be made public later this year.)

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