Yassin's Falafel House

A large number of small business owners in Knoxville collectively signed a letter earlier this week in support of the Knox County Board of Health’s current and independent autonomy. 

This letter seems to be in response to a video released the week before from a group known as Freedom Forward. The video featured narration by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. During the video, Jacobs referred to the board as “Unelected bureaucrats who cast down edicts which carry the force of law with no accountability and no recourse.”

The letter signed by more than 90 Knoxville business leaders called for and supported the continued independence of the Knox County Board of Health. The letter read, “The current Board members act based on data … and in the best interest of all businesses (and residents) of Knox County.”

These leaders believe that if the Board of Health is altered or dismantled, the objectivity and science-based nature of COVID-19 laws and regulations will be compromised. They stated that this potential change has the potential to the safety and health of the community, with respect to COVID-19.

Benny Smith Program Director and General Manager of WUTK, a non-profit, non-commercial radio station owned and operated by the University of Tennessee, was one of the business leaders that signed the letter. He urged that safety is of utmost importance. 

“We simply cannot take the decision-making process out of the hands of medical professionals and put into the hands of those who make decisions due to political influence,” Smith said. “That approach has caused more sickness and death in our country that should have happened, and we do not need to follow that example, locally.”

“With deejays and students coming and going throughout our broadcast day, it makes it an even bigger risk that one may bring it into the station if the proper, scientific-based decisions and policies are not implemented to keep everyone safe,” Smith said. “If me, or if one of my other two full-time, non-student staffers fall ill with COVID, we would have to isolate, and shut the station down for two weeks, which would drain us of important revenue that we need to generate in order to bring in the money to stay on air.”

The tension surrounding the Knox County Board of Health reaches businesses and leaders from all fields. Businesses which have signed their name to the letter include Yassin’s Falafel House, Maple Hall, Law Office of Ursula Bailey and Culture Hair Studio, along with many more. 

Robyn Jarvis Askew, a local lawyer and member of Knoxville’s business community, offered her individual support to the Board as well.

“I try to read about what is going on the community on a daily basis. I have always been impressed with the Knox County Board of Health, the work that gets done there and the number of people they help,” Askew said.

With recent events calling into question whether or not the Board will be altered or dismantled altogether, many business owners have expressed a sense of fear for what could happen to the community, especially if the board were to become politicized. 

“My fears are that without science-based direction, our infection rates [will] go through the roof and people (will) get very, very ill, and either die or have life-long consequences from the impacts of COVID-19,” Askew said. “My fear is that we act irresponsibly. To me, if we practice social distancing, mask up and practice cleanliness, we will get through this quicker. My fear is politicization of the board is to get rid of health and safety guidelines.”

There are many people on both sides of the spectrum when it comes to having an opinion on this matter. However, dozens of Knoxville business leaders have spoken out for what they believe in, and there seems to be a consistent call for efforts that support the health and safety of the Knoxville community as a whole.

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