Knox County public health resolutions gain traction at commission work session

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KNOX COUNTY (WATE) – Knox County’s Board of Health dominated conversation at Monday night’s County Commission work session.

Two proposals about public health gained traction and moved forward.

Health Board Meetings

The Knox County Commission considered an ordinance to add certain requirements to the Knox County Board of Health’s meetings.

“This is basically just a transparency thing,” Commissioner Kyle Ward, who is sponsoring the agenda item, said.

The item proposes a change in how the health board meets. It asks the health board to hold public forum the same way county commission does.

According to the ordinance, that means “during public forum, County residents shall be allowed no less than three (3), nor more than five (5), minutes to address the county board of health about their concerns and opinions.”

The original proposal asked that health board members would also meet in person if county commission was as well, but that was scratched by commissioners Monday night.

“All the opinions weighed in. I think the best the ideas won in this circumstance and got the ball moving in the right direction so that the people can have a voice,” Ward said.

There were opposing viewpoints voiced as commission discussed the ordinance.

Chairman Larsen Jay said, “We’re sort of tinkering around with the nuts and bolts of our law in real time, and I just think it’s not the best way to move forward.”

In the end, the motion moved forward without recommendation.

Advisory Committee on Health and Economic Well-Being

Commissioner Ward is also sponsoring a resolution to establish the Knox County Advisory Committee on Health and Economic Well-Being.

According to the resolution, it would serve “as an advisory group to the Knox County Mayor and Knox County Commission on any topic regarding the physical, mental, or economic health of Knox County citizens.”

As proposed, the committee would consist of 11 members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by commission, and it would include two economists, one epidemiologist, one virologist, two Knox County business leaders, two Knox County medical professionals, two psychologists or social workers and one commissioner.

Though it’s not aimed at tackling COVID-19 specifically, Ward says there could come a time when it’s especially important.

“There’s been talk at the state house level to pass law to make it that the power would no longer fall at the health board, the power would then fall at the mayor, so the mayor would then have the decisions, if the state legislation decides to do that. So my comment was if the mayor’s going to have the power to make all the restrictions, I want him to have as many advisers as possible so he can make the best, most well-informed decision as possible,” Ward said.

Knox County Health Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said county leaders already have teams of experts. As pointed out during the meeting, there is a Community Health Council and the Health Department.

“Very few of you have reached out to me during the pandemic, or my staff. Some of you have, and some of you haven’t, but my staff is always available to provide their expertise,” Buchanan said.

Commissioners are set to vote on the resolution next week.

Public Forum

Discussion on the agenda items came after an hour-long public forum. It was the first of two rounds of public forum for the night.

“Please dissolve the board of health,” one speaker said.

Moving Forward

Commissioner Justin Biggs said he needs to get everyone, including county commissioners, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Buchanan, and the chair of the Community Health Council in one room to hash out what comes next for public health.

Biggs says he wants that meeting to happen on Thursday.

The next Knox County Commission meeting is set for Monday. The Board of Health is scheduled to meet a week from Wednesday.

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