Legality of state museum leader’s pay raise procedure questioned

State Rep. Steve McDaniel, as chairman of the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum, apparently approved a 25 percent pay raise for Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell earlier this year and told no other board members about the move, reports Cari Wade Gervin. Some other members of the board – though all apparently agree she was underpaid — are now questioning whether the procedure was legal.

When asked why he didn’t bring up the raises during the relevant discussion of the April DHSMC meeting, much less the rest of the year’s meetings, McDaniel didn’t have a good answer.

“I didn’t think about it, to be honest. We probably should have had it on the agenda, but it just didn’t occur to me,” McDaniel said. “If I had thought to bring it up, I would have brought it up.”

When asked if he thought he had done anything wrong by approving the raises without letting anyone else on the commission know, much less discussing it with them, McDaniel seemed unconcerned.

“Did I do anything wrong? Apparently not,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know that I had to tell them, because I was acting in my role as chair.”

…The commission members who spoke to the Post on the record aren’t concerned that Riggins-Ezzell got a raise, per se, or even that she’ll have more money going into her retirement. But they are concerned about the process — and where the money for the raises came from.

“I think that’s problematic. It’s hard to believe [McDaniel] could attend multiple commission meetings and then not mention that he gave Lois a raise,” said Bob Buchanan, an ex-officio member of the DHSMC. “I question whether this was proper stewardship of the state’s resources.”

Pete Claussen, another commission member, at first said he saw “nothing improper” in the raise but after further research changed his mind.

“The rules are that the commission should have approved the raise. I’m baffled as to why this was kept from us,” Claussen said.

The commission members who spoke to the Post on the record aren’t concerned that Riggins-Ezzell got a raise, per se, or even that she’ll have more money going into her retirement. But they are concerned about the process — and where the money for the raises came from.

“I think that’s problematic. It’s hard to believe [McDaniel] could attend multiple commission meetings and then not mention that he gave Lois a raise,” said Bob Buchanan, an ex-officio member of the DHSMC. “I question whether this was proper stewardship of the state’s resources.”

Pete Claussen, another commission member, at first said he saw “nothing improper” in the raise but after further research changed his mind.

“The rules are that the commission should have approved the raise. I’m baffled as to why this was kept from us,” Claussen said.

Current DHSMC chair Smith said he is investigating the matter further. Meanwhile, Ashe has asked the state comptroller’s office to look into the raises.

“I think it’s grounds for a reprimand, at least, because [Riggins-Ezzell] misled the commission knowingly. It’s shocking,” Ashe said.

On the form McDaniel signed authorizing Riggins-Ezzell’s raise, the box certifying that the agency had available equity funds to support the request remained unchecked. Neither McDaniel nor Smith could fully explain where the money for the raises might have come from, especially as Crockett-Green stated at the April meeting there was no money for such raises, despite having just received one.

(Crockett-Green and spokesmen for the attorney general’s office and state comptroller’s office declined comment.)

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