Knox County Commission discusses Board of Health’s authority; hears from locals in public forum

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A marathon Monday night Knox County commission meeting ended early Tuesday morning.

Commissioners met for more than eight hours, and discussion surrounding the Knox County Board of Health took center stage.

It came as commission considered a proposed resolution about the health board’s power and authority, passing it in an 8-3 vote.

“This policy didn’t change anything about how the Board of Health operates, about what their powers are, about what they can mandate. It essentially changes nothing about what they have the ability to do, it simply is a statement from some of our commissioners that say that they don’t like it,” said Chairman Larsen Jay.

“It’s basically us as commissioners saying we’re not happy with the process, we don’t think it follows our constitution. We want the state to take a look at this and maybe have some further action,” said one of the resolutions co-sponsors, Commissioner Kyle Ward.

The move followed hours of public forum.

Community members on both sides of the issue spoke out. Some were in support of the Board of Health, and others were against it, calling for the board to be dissolved.

“If people want mandates, increased restrictions, curfews to continue, draft a bill. Bring it to a vote, let the people decide at the ballot box,” said one community member speaking during public forum.

“My rights, those of my children and those of my fellow Americans are being violated. This breaks my heart and enrages me,” said another.

“The Board of Health consists of professionals, and who else would you want to fight the virus?” asked a community member supporting the board.

“One way you can protect those you’re elected to serve is to support our health board. The members of this board are the best of the best in their fields,” said another public forum speaker.

Knox County health leaders also took the podium. Board of Health member Dr. Patrick O’Brien spoke to commission in person, and Health Director Dr. Martha Buchanan video-conferenced in to the meeting.

Apart from the resolution regarding the health board’s authority, the commission was also slated to nominate a citizen representative to the health board.

After midnight Tuesday, they voted in favor of Ani Roma. She told us there are two reasons why she wanted to serve on the board.

“I truly do care about the health and wellness of our community,” she said. “And then the other reason is because I feel like I represent a variety of individuals. I’m a well-rounded applicant as a parent, as a community member, as an educator, as a business owner. I just felt like I represented many different pockets of our community.”

Chairman Jay said Roma will serve starting this week.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Elizabeth Kuebel covered the meeting live at the city-county building.

EARLIER:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Sides have been drawn ahead of the county commission meeting Monday night.

Last week, commissioners held a work session, hearing from several public speakers, pushing back on the Board of Health, some even calling for it to be dissolved.

The original resolution heard then called for a limit on the health board’s power; one of the co-sponsors said he thought its intent got misconstrued and that it was never meant to dissolve the health board, but to cover the county liability-wise.

Then a few days later, dozens of small business owners sent a letter backing the Board of Health and urging the Knox County government to leave the health board in its current composition. We’re told more than 90 people have signed that letter.

The public forum kicked off just after the meeting began at 5 p.m.

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