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Knox County Commission votes to dissolve Board of Health powers, Buchanan says she’s ‘committed’ to community

The commission approved the ordinance on a first reading. It still needs to pass a second reading scheduled for January 25, 2021.
Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 1:38 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 6:26 AM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Early Tuesday morning after a nearly eight-hour meeting the Knox County Commission voted 6-4-1 to approve an ordinance to dissolve the powers of the Knox County Board of Health. The ordinance would put the board in an advisory role only.

This subject has been in discussion for months as commissioners and concerned citizens go back and forth over who should have the policy power.

Some of the measures the Board of Health has taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 include a 10 p.m. dine-in curfew and 50 percent capacity restrictions for restaurants.

Dr. Martha Buchanan, Director of the Knox County Health Department said this is not an appropriate time to have this debate and “it’s like approaching a wildfire and asking who should hold the hose”.

After several hours of back and forth, some proposed delaying the vote for 120, 90, and 30 days. Each one of those motions failed to pass. So the first reading happened and passed 6-4 with one commissioner declining to vote.

Knox County Commission Chairman Larsen Jay posted on Facebook shortly after the meeting “Despite living in the worst place for COVID-19 the world, several commissioners took the first step in dissolving the Board of Health and dismantling our health infrastructure. I cringe at what January will look like in our community”. Jay says he feels this is a conversation worth having, but that this is the wrong time to do it.

Commissioners who support the ordinance feel the Board of Health shouldn’t have the authority to make decisions because they weren’t elected.

Commissioner Kyle Ward proposed the ordinance to dissolve the Board of Health. Ward’s proposal has to pass a majority in second reading at the next Knox County Commission meeting on January 25, 2021. If it passes the Board of Health would not have any power and would only serve in an advisory role. Dr. Martha Buchanan would take over power.

During a Tuesday press conference, Buchanan said while she doesn’t feel a change in power is appropriate right now she is “committed to this community” and “committed to seeing this through”.

“I am here to serve this community and make those tough decisions,” Buchanan said. “I would prefer to keep the board of health as it is, but if that’s not a possibility I hope we keep them as an advisory board.”

Buchanan said she doesn’t think the decision will change public health in Knox County.

“I’ve voted in concert with the Board of Health on every vote,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan made the following statement when asked if she is concerned about being the sole decider of the commission’s approval on second reading.

“I am totally willing to continue making those tough decisions,” Buchanan said. “I think we need stop focusing on who’s making the decisions and refocus on what do we need to do as a community to turn the tide on COVID. It doesn’t matter who’s making the decisions, the things that need to be done are obvious.”

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