State museum under audit, again

A rendering of the new museum building, scheduled to open in late 2018.

The Tennessee State Museum is under audit for the third time since 2011.

On Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Director Mary Jane Crockett-Green sent an email to members of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission confirming the audit, although at least six people from the Comptroller's office started their work the day before.

"In Chairman [Tom] Smith's absence due to travel, I have been asked to inform you that the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury has scheduled an audit of the State Museum for the period of January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016," Crockett-Green wrote. "In addition to re-examining the Museum's internal controls and confirming that all statutory requirements are being met, one of the primary objectives of the audit is to ensure that the corrective actions to mediate past Findings are being appropriately implemented."

The new audit follows months of extensive reporting by the Post on the troubled agency and its apparent lack of oversight by the state commission entrusted with those duties — and it follows two highly critical audits in January 2011 and September 2015. In addition to new problems, the latter audit found the museum had still not implemented several procedural changes deemed necessary by the former one.

DHSMC Commissioner Victor Ashe requested an audit in November after the board discovered now-retired Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell and Crockett-Green had maneuvered to get then-DHSMC Chair Steve McDaniel to give them both 25 percent raises, which they later pretended had not occurred at a commission meeting. (Department of Human Resources staff, including Commissioner Rebecca Hunter and Deputy Commissioner Danielle Barnes, were also in attendance; it's not clear whether their actions are also under audit.)

Construction on a new $160 million building for the museum is underway. The cultural facility is expected to open in late 2018. The DHSMC has hired an executive search firm to find Riggins-Ezzell's replacement, after she was finally forced to retire last fall — although she was quickly hired by the Tennessee State Museum Foundation, the state agency's non-profit fundraising arm. (In the weeks before her departure at the end of December, Riggins-Ezzell apparently moved museum staff out of their offices to create a new, second "conference room" for her dedicated use when doing Foundation work. When Smith found out about the shuffling, he quashed the office reassignments.)

The DHSMC Search Committee is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon to draw up a short list of possible replacements for Riggins-Ezzell; however, to date no members have been provided with any dossiers of applicants. The committee will then present its recommendations to the full commission on Tuesday; again, it's unclear whether board members will know anything about any applicants before they are expected to immediately make a decision on two or three finalists to interview.

"How can one make an intelligent decision based on 30 minutes notice?" Ashe says, criticizing the lack of information, which is ostensibly all public record.

Smith did not return questions as to whether the committee or the full commission will receive any information about candidates before the meeting itself.

Meanwhile, the week after Riggins-Ezell retired, the head of the agency by default, Crockett-Green, fired two part-time employees for supposed budgetary reasons. However, employees report that one of those fired employees, Crockett-Green's sister Lisa Hester, returned to work at the museum the very next week — as an employee of the Foundation.

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