State museum chairman says comptroller review vindicates new leadership efforts to resolve past troubles

A “limited review” of Tennessee State Museum operations finds past problems – ranging from missing booze to nepotism and other conflicts of interest — are now being addressed and Thomas Smith, chairman of the board that oversees museum operations, tells The Tennessean he sees the report as a vindication of new leadership.

“I believe that this letter from the comptroller’s office is excellent,” Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday.

“I believe that every single thing in this letter simply underscores why I and the commission have worked so hard to bring new leadership into the Tennessee State Museum, because every one of these findings, in my opinion, are just legacy actions of the prior leadership.”

Longtime museum leader Lois Riggins-Ezzell retired from her role in late 2016… The Nashville Post… detailed a litany of nepotism and misconduct allegations against Riggins-Ezzell at the time after several scandals, including the arrest of a former employee and a scathing comptroller review. (Ashley Howell has since become the new executive director.”

…”During our limited review, we determined that five current employees, including the deputy director, as well as the former executive director, received 15 percent to 26 percent salary increases in calendar year 2016,” the comptroller’s letter states.

The comptroller doesn’t say whether the pay increases are warranted. Smith said he thinks there is nothing wrong with those raises.

Auditors also found museum officials directing employees of the museum foundation and conducting clerical work for the foundation. The two entities should remain separate to avoid any conflicts, the auditors said.

The full review letter, which lists several other past problems. is HERE.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, had asked Comptroller Justin Wilson to review museum operations in October, 2016, specifically noting the pay raises. (Previous post HERE). In an email to fellow members of the panel, Ashe had this comment on the review letter:

Ashley Howell and Tom Smith are working to correct the frequent errors and misdeeds from the 35 year tenure of Lois Riggins-Ezzell. They are off to a good start and this letter from the Comptroller simply reminds us of the problems which are now basically behind us.   Ashley will not tolerate these prior operational issues on her watch.

We can be glad it is a new day and let’s support Ashley as she deals with those issues still remaining.

While not our doing, the (Tennessee Museum) foundation is still paying Lois Riggins-Ezzell $40,000 a year to do very little to nothing which is money which could come to the Museum or new building in my opinion.  It is difficult to justify.

Note: A complete audit of the museum is still in the works.

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