- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s former chief of staff, Mark Cate, will earn $120,000 per year as a “project coordinator” developing the new Tennessee State Museum to be built near the state Capitol.

The Knoxville News Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1PCkTtM) obtained details of the contract through a public records request despite a “confidentiality clause” inserted into the document.

“He will oversee the entire project,” said Bobby Thomas, a Nashville attorney who is chairman of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation. “Mark Cate knows all the players extremely well, and I think he will be an excellent person to coordinate the effort.”

Cate, a former campaign manager for Haslam, stepped down from the governor’s Cabinet on Aug. 1. The contract is between Cate’s new consulting firm called the Stones River Group LLC and the Tennessee State Museum Foundation, which oversees fundraising efforts.

Cate’s consulting group will continue to serve clients other than the museum, though he declined to name any of them. His role will be to coordinate between the foundation, its fundraisers and a separate board that oversees general museum operations.

“I think this is a project where I am uniquely qualified,” Cate told the newspaper.

The contract classifies Cate’s work as consulting and not lobbying. State ethics laws require a one-year cooling-off period before Cabinet members can work as lobbyists.

Haslam earlier this year included $120 million in the state budget to fund the new museum, and Cate had indicated he hoped to have a role in getting the new facility off the ground.

Cate said he would steer clear of a debate over whether to replace the museum’s longtime executive director, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, before the new facility opens.

Former Ambassador Victor Ashe, a member and former chairman of the board overseeing museum operations, has criticized the museum art acquisition under Riggins-Ezzell’s leadership for being too Nashville-centric at the expense of the eastern and western parts of the state. He says he plans to bring up her continued service at the board’s next meeting in October.

Lois Riggins-Ezell, who has served in the role since 1981, has disputed the criticism and said she plans to remain “as long as I can.” Her exclamation that “I am the museum” has raised eyebrows around the state Capitol.

Thomas, who serves on both the museum fundraising and operations boards, said a change in leadership should be considered.

“I do think, in building a new museum, that the person who will be leading that new museum needs to be on board during the planning and construction period,” he said.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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