Although this headline seems like it’s from today, it was actually appropriate a century ago. In 1907, the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, led by the Knoxville Delegation brought and passed a law entitled “An Act to Amend the charter of the city of Knoxville, Tenn., being Chapter 207 of the Acts of 1907 of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee and all Acts amendatory thereof.”

This Act transformed the City of Knoxville’s government and replaced the powers of the Mayor, the Board of Alderman, and the Board of Health, among others. All powers were then transferred to a newly created Board of Commissioners. The Act went into effect on December 30, 1911.

Special thanks to our City Council Staff and Angela Hopper for locating this Ordinance.

Image: Looking north on Gay Street towards the Farragut Hotel, 1919
(Source: McClung Historical Collection)

As a consequence of the 1907 Act referenced above, the Board of Health was abolished effective December 30, 1911. After the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Knoxville Board of Commissioners brought back the Board of Health of the City of Knoxville in 1919. In fact, the original language of the ordinance restoring the Department of Health was to take effect in 17 days, but that section has a line drawn through it and hand written above the ordinance we see “immediately” inscribed. Taken together in all, the hand written amendments could be interpreted as an indication of a sense of urgency from our past legislators’ concern for public safety.

One reason why this headline seems like a current event and not one from Knoxville’s past is that HB0007 was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly in November 2020. The bill “specifies that the county mayor has the authority to establish and implement health policies that affect the entire county during a county-wide health emergency; directs the county health director, health officer, and health board to provide advice to the mayor to develop polices.” You can follow the bill’s progress here. The bill would strip local Heath Boards of their powers and transfer them to the County Mayor.

In December 2020, Knox County Commission voted on Ordinance O-20-12-101 which would remove powers from Knox County Board of Health by a 6 to 4 vote with one abstention. The vote on the ordinance was only the first of two required votes to pass County Commission and would remove the board’s ability to create polices and alter the Board’s authority to advisory only. The second, and final, vote on this change could come as early as Monday, January 25, 2021. You can explore the language of the Knox County Commission ordinance here.

It is important to draw on our history to better understand our current challenges. Since March 2020, there have been more than 40,000 local infections and sadly we’ve lost 431 of our neighbors to COVID-19. I implore my colleagues on Knox County Commission to vote no on this proposed Ordinance, stripping the Knox County Board of Health of its powers. Now is the time to unite and act judiciously on behalf of our community. History will remember what we do today – I support Knox County’s Board of Health and call on you to do the same.

2 thoughts on “Health Board Abolished; Resurrected After Pandemic

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