During last night’s Knox County Commission meeting, the Commission voted 8-3 to effectively dissolve the Knox County Board of Health, replacing it with an unelected Health Department Director.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has been an outspoken critic of the Board of Health for months, consistently being one of the only people on the board to vote against many regulations proposed in meetings.
The vote reconstituted the Board of Health as an advisory board with no real power over pandemic regulations in Knox County. Over the past year, the Board of Health met almost every week to discuss county COVID-19 regulations such as mask mandates and bar curfews.
The decision puts lawmaking power -- in regards to mandates related to the pandemic -- back into the hands of Health Director Martha Buchanan.
Commission Chairman Larsen Jay voted against dissolving the board, along with Democrat Commissioners Dasha Lundy and Courtney Durrett. Commissioners Ward, Justin Biggs, Randy Smith, John Schoonmaker, Terry Hill, Charles Busler, Richie Beeler and Carson Dailey all voted to dissolve the board.
The decision was met with backlash from those on the board and others within local government. Before the vote, Jay addressed the rest of the commissioners, raising his concerns about making this decision too soon.
“While it’s encouraging to see vaccinations are up and cases are down, I don’t believe the forest fire is yet to be fully extinguished,” Jay said. “There are still hot embers, and, as a former Boy Scout, I know you never leave a hot fire unattended and simply walk away.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 606 people in Knox County have lost their lives to COVID-19. Though new case numbers have been down and vaccinations are up, many still believe it is too soon to return to “normal” by removing mask mandates and social distancing restrictions.
This story has been updated.
Currently, Knox County still has a number of restrictions, though it is now unlikely that many of them will be held in place without the Board of Health. Restaurants, bars and other businesses still have a curfew of 1 a.m. and there is still a county wide mask mandate in place.