The Knox County Commission finalized its vote to eliminate the Knox County Board of Health’s powers on Monday, effectively rendering it an advisory body. The final vote in favor of the measure, 8-3, wasn’t as close as the previous vote. The final vote was originally scheduled for the end of April, as The Tennessee Star reported in January, but the commission voted during last week’s meeting to vote on this measure during Monday’s meeting.
The Star inquired with Chairman Larsen Jay about the commission’s decision-making. Specifically, we inquired what caused the shift within the commission to be more supportive of the measure. Jay didn’t respond by press time. He voted “no” alongside Commissioners Dasha Lundy and Courtney Durrett.
Tennessee Stands, a community-based nonprofit social advocacy group, announced the decision shortly after the commission meeting. The group had rallied and advocated to eliminate the board’s powers.
BREAKING: The Knox County Commission has just voted to pass an ordinance that effectively dissolves the Knox County Board of Health!!!!
— Tennessee Stands (@tennesseestands) March 30, 2021
It appears that Board of Health members anticipated what the likely outcome of the commission meeting would be. Approximately hours before the meeting, one of the board’s members, Colonel Patrick O’Brien, submitted his resignation letter. The contents of the letter are reproduced below:
In the event that the enabling ordinance that set up the Knox County Board of Health is negated by the Knox County Commission, I will not accept a position as a member of the Knox County Advisory Board of Health as I do not feel I can adequately serve in this newly established advisory role. It was an honor and privilege to serve on the Knox County Board of Health with my fellow board members, but I feel as though given the direction that has been set by the Knox County Commission, it is time for me to step aside and focus my time and energy elsewhere.
At the end of last month, O’Brien advocated for “several more months” of strict mask-wearing and social distancing – though he acknowledged the continued downward trend of hospitalizations and active cases.
The entirety of the vote lasted just minutes. Groups of maskless community members were present at the meeting to speak in favor of reducing the board to an advisory body.
Following the decision, one individual took to a social media group to threaten commissioners for their vote. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office is investigating this threat.
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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.