Knox County Commission voted to strip the county’s board of health of its powers to issue mandates on Tuesday. Instead of having the power to impose regulations, the Knox County Board of Health would be limited to serving as an advisory group. After a heated, divided exchange lasting eight hours, the commission voted 6-4 in favor of diminishing the board’s authority, with one commissioner abstaining their vote.
The decision followed the board’s latest regulations limiting social gatherings and in-person dining. At the beginning of this month, the board imposed a social gathering limit of 10 people within 360 square feet, with limited exceptions including nursing homes. Two weeks later, the board elected to limit restaurants and bars to 50 percent capacity, and impose a curfew limiting in-person services lasting from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The sponsor of the amendment, commissioner Kyle Ward, said in a statement to reporters that the measure would protect the financial health of the community.
“For me, it’s very simple as a constitutional conservative. I think it’s the right thing to do,” explained Ward during the meeting.
Larsen Jay, the commission’s chairman, posted on Facebook afterwards to express his disagreement with the decision.
“Tonight, despite the worst place for COVID in the world, several Commissioners took the first step in dissolving the Board of Health and dismantling our health infrastructure,” wrote Jay. “I cringe at what January will look like in our community.”
Many of the community members who spoke during the meeting expressed dismay over the revocation of the board of health’s powers. However, others in the community have sided with the commission majority. Nonprofit social advocacy organization Tennessee Stands organized a rally this past weekend to protest the board of health’s powers. Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles spoke at the gathering, petitioning the commission to demote the board to an advisory role.
Spokespersons with the county commission didn’t respond with comment to The Tennessee Star by press time.
The commission will have another month before finalizing its vote to amend the board of health’s authority.
– – –
Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Knox County Health Department Building” by Knox County Health Department.