Knox County Commission moves closer to Board of Health power shift

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KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County commissioners are one step closer to stripping the Board of Health of its policy making power.

A vote came after midnight at Monday night’s marathon County Commission meeting.

Commissioners passed an ordinance, on first reading, to move the Board of Health to an advisory role. That would put the authority in the hands of Knox County Health Department Senior Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.

Sponsoring commissioner Kyle Ward explained the push behind his requested change.

“For me, it’s very simple. Constitutional conservative. I think this is the right thing to do. This is nothing against the Board of Health, they will still be involved in an advisory role. The new advisory role, they’ll be able to talk to Dr. Buchanan whenever they want, they won’t have to sunshine any laws or anything like that, as well,” Ward said.

Commission voted 6-4 in its favor, with Commissioner Randy Smith passing on a vote. Commissioners Larsen Jay, Dasha Lundy, Courtney Durrett and Terry Hill voted no. Commissioners Kyle Ward, John Schoonmaker, Charles Busler, Richie Beeler, Carson Dailey and Justin Biggs voted yes.

It came after commissioners voiced their opinions for and against the move, and after hearing from Dr. Buchanan, who said now is not the time to make a change.

“Deciding who has authority to make decisions right now is like confronting a wildfire and arguing over who needs to hold the hose. It’s not appropriate,” Dr. Buchanan said.

“I actually believe this is a reasonable change that is procedural in nature and offers a more constitutional way of making these decisions,” said Commissioner Beeler.

“If we proceed with this ordinance, this body will undermine our public health infrastructure and seriously demoralize the health care professionals battling to save lives every day. You heard it directly from the healthcare professionals during public forum. They’re exhausted and they don’t understand why you don’t care about them,” Chairman Jay said.

The ordinance passed Monday night on first reading. That means it still needs to go before Commission on second reading in January, where it will be discussed and voted on once more.

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