April Fool’s Day marks one year since Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon issued the “safer-at-home” order, after three counties dropped their mask mandates. The counties of Hamblen, Roane, and Claiborn allowed their mandates to expire on Wednesday. Similar “15 days to slow the spread” practices turned into weeks, then months, and now, for many across Tennessee and the country.
Kincannon’s Safer at Home order lasted for nearly a month. It prohibited gatherings over 10 and forced closure of all “nonessential” businesses. The order empowered city officials with regulatory authority to take action against anyone who violated the order. The city even made available a non-compliance reporting process to enforce the order – which is still active.
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.
The Tennessee House passed two bills expanding the authority of county mayors and teachers in exigent situations. Both were approved on Monday and are awaiting passage in the Senate.
Under HB0007, county-wide policy-making powers related to public health emergencies would be reserved solely for the county mayor in counties with particular population counts. The bill would only apply to Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan, and Madison counties. Those six counties would also see their county boards of health or county health committees demoted to advisory roles. State Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) introduced the bill last November. It passed 67-26.
A hearing officer on behalf of the Knoxville Beer Board revoked a bar’s beer permit for violating COVID-19 curfew mandates. The bar, Billiards and Brews, had accrued 18 curfew violations up to that point. The hearing officer, Gerald Gulley, issued the decision following a special hearing on Tuesday. According to the Knoxville City Code, businesses can’t apply for another permit for ten years after it has been revoked.
In the opinion, Gulley asserted that the city’s requested relief to suspend the bar’s beer permit for 75 days minimum and enforce fines per violation wasn’t going far enough. He cited the city code’s note that disorderly manner of operations necessitate the revocation of a beer permit, and declared that Billiards and Brews’ failure to heed curfews aligned with that standard of punishment.
The Knox County Commission opted to delay the final vote to eliminate or maintain Knox County Board of Health’s powers. The commission voted on Monday to postpone the deciding vote for 90 days.
If passed, the measure would revert all decision-making powers to Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan. Early last month, the commission took the first step to dissolve the Board of Health and reconstitute it as an advisory board. As previously reported by The Tennessee Star, the proposal sponsor, Commissioner Kyle Ward, has argued that the measure would protect the community’s financial health.
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 will 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 pm to 5 am.
A group promoting individual liberty rallied Saturday afternoon to strip the Knox County Board of Health of its mandate powers.
“No elected politician, or in this case an appointed board, should have the right to decide whether your business is valuable,” Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles told The Tennessee Star.