The front entrance of the Tennessee State Museum is seen in Nashville.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee State Museum commissioners on Monday saw a conceptual design presentation for a new $160 million facility before later arguing over how quickly to replace the museum's longtime director, Lois Riggins-Ezzell.

Meanwhile, Riggins-Ezzell was named a non-voting member of the very search committee named to replace her. She later told reporters she doesn't want to leave the post she's held for 35 years.

"I want to help the new museum," Riggins-Ezzell said, later adding, "I want to stay. I am the museum director."

Earlier, members of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission heard from presentations from project coordinator Mark Cate, former chief of staff to Gov. Bill Haslam.

The governor is taking the lead role on raising $40 million that will supplement a $120 million state appropriation approved last year for the facility. The new building will replace the current museum housed in the basement of the James K. Polk State Office Building. Work is scheduled to begin this spring.

Museum commissioners also heard from Patrick Gallagher, president of Gallagher & Associates, whose firm is designing the exhibit experience for the 50,000-square-foot building that will go up on the state's Bicentennial Mall near the state Capitol.

"This could easily be a multi-day experience for visitors," said Gallagher, as he described various galleries with artifacts and interactive displays outlining Tennessee history, culture and more.

He also presented conceptual drawings, which officials stressed were not yet set in concrete.

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Lois Riggins-Ezzell

Commissioners later followed up on their October meeting where they agreed to begin a succession plan for Riggins-Ezzell.

A state comptroller's performance audit last year raised concerns about the lack of a succession plan while the new $160 million museum is under development. Riggins-Ezzell, meanwhile, has come under criticism for some actions and has been accused of engineering the removal of two members of the Tennessee Museum Foundation, who had raised operational and other concerns.


The foundation is the chief fundraising arm of the museum for purchases of historical artifacts and art.

Haslam's Human Resources Department is helping commissioners structure the search, as well as aiding the museum on new workforce planning.

Trish Holliday, an assistant Human Resources commissioner and chief "learning officer," outlined a process that would result in appointment of a new executive director in January 2018. Commissioner Victor Ashe, a critic of Riggins-Ezzell, objected. So did Robert Buchanan, an ex officio commissioner and president of the Tennessee Historical Society.

"I'm appalled," said Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor, U.S. ambassador and one-time state senator. He noted the University of Tennessee has completed searches for new presidents in less than a year.

Both said it was critical to bring someone on board as the new executive director well before the projected completion of the museum in summer or fall of 2018. Ashe said Riggins-Ezzell "should be replaced by the end of 2016."

Holliday called the January 2018 date a "misspeak."

But Commission Chairman Steve McDaniel, the deputy House speaker, said "that's not been determined [Ezzell-Riggins] is leaving before the ribbon's cut."

During a break in which reporters spoke with Ashe, Commissioner Thomas Smith interjected that "some people seem to be operating with a vendetta. That's inappropriate to say that Ms. Ezzell is going to be gone by the end of the year. That is not going to happen."

Smith then turned to several reporters and lectured them on not dwelling too much on disagreements over the replacement of Riggins-Ezzell.

"Gentlemen of the press, how can that be the takeaway from this wonderful meeting?" Smith asked, alluding to the earlier conceptual design plans presentation.

Later, McDaniel announced the six-person search committee would be headed by Smith. Ezzell was named as an ex officio member. Ashe complained none of the members were from East Tennessee.

Ashe later said having Riggins-Ezzell on the panel "has the potential for creating conflicts."

Asked by reporters about Ashe's comments, McDaniel said, "Personally I don't think so or I wouldn't have done it. I don't see conflicts of interest. I see the advantage of her expertise, personally knowing the current museum's operations and collections. That may help the search committee in its deliberations."

Contact Andy Sher at, 615-255-0550 or follow via Twitter at AndySher1.