Health Board puts a ‘hurt’ on Jacobs

Betty BeanKnox Scene

The wrestler Kane, aka Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, is a fearsome sight when he executes his signature move. He calls it the choke slam, and it involves grabbing his victim by the throat, lifting him high overhead – which is pretty dang high, since Jacobs stands nearly 7 feet tall – and throwing him down onto the canvas where he’s transformed into a writhing jelly, probably for real. Kane’s made good money on that move.


This week’s meeting of the Knox County Board of Health probably gave Jacobs a pretty good idea of how it feels to be on the receiving end of a choke slam, artfully executed by Dr. Maria Hurt, a professor at UT’s College of Nursing.

Maria Hurt, DNP

Things were moving slowly toward adjournment, but nobody had mentioned the elephant in the room – the fact that Jacobs is trying to gin up a mob to come to Monday’s Knox County Commission meeting to demand that the board of health be dissolved.

Plainly stated, he’s trying to rile up people who oppose wearing masks and early bar closings to come pack themselves into the balcony of the large assembly room to influence county commission into voting to abolish the health board in the middle of a pandemic.

So, Jacobs was probably more than ready for the meeting to adjourn before Dr. Hurt mentioned “Freedom Forward,” an incendiary video he narrated and released last week calling his board colleagues sinister forces bent on destroying everything that is good about America. Apparently, the feedback wasn’t good, and the video disappeared after one day.

He probably thought he’d made a clean getaway Wednesday night until Hurt reminded Jacobs that he had complimented his fellow board members for their dedication and competence at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Then she played the “Freedom Forward” video (go to 1;50 on the meeting video) he’d released the next day. It began with his voice reciting the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” clause of the Declaration of Independence over a backdrop of muskets and patriots and founding documents in flame. He denounced the colleagues he’d praised the night before as “unelected bureaucrats” bent on destroying America.

Hurt said that her family and friends fear for her safety and would like for her to resign from the health board.

Then several other members of the board added to the airing of grievances. Nobody cut Jacobs any slack and he was clearly embarrassed.

Dr. Patrick O’Brien, an Air Force National Guard colonel who served multiple tours in the Middle East, said it hurt to watch the video impugning his patriotism.

“We are volunteers; we are the people. As a military officer who has sworn to serve this country, I felt threatened by what I saw,” O’Brien said, warning Jacobs, “You will reap what you sow.”

Jacobs said he was sorry if anyone felt threatened, and that the video was meant for a certain meeting and wasn’t supposed to have been made public (e.g., sorry you took it the wrong way).

“If anyone felt I was launching attacks. … It’s a movement based to identify the problem. It’s not based on politics. It’s based on being Americans,” he said.”

He said he has to look at the “bigger picture” than public health.

After some members expressed fear in attending Monday’s commission meeting, O’Brien volunteered to go. He appeared to brush off Jacobs’ offer to stand next to him.

“I’ve dealt with worse – ISIS. I’m willing to go.”

The nine-member health board is composed of seven healthcare professionals, the county mayor and the superintendent of schools. The director of the Knox County Health Department is an ex-officio member, and the other six members are chosen by their professional organizations to make public health decisions. The board has been around since the mid-80s and its members went quietly about their business until the COVID-19 pandemic made them into a political punching bag.

Last week in his Friday video (this man loves making videos), Jacobs boasted that he has voted no on every policy question that has come before the health board. He also invited viewers to tune in and watch him on the Mike Huckabee Show.

Here’s the bottom line:

There will be a resolution on Monday’s (9/28) agenda proposing to do away with the Knox County Board of Health. It is sponsored by two first-term commissioners – Justin Biggs, who is beginning the third year of his first term and went straight from high school to the courthouse where he was eventually hired by John J. Duncan III during his short tenure as trustee, and Kyle Ward, a garbage hauler who will attend his first full meeting as a commissioner Monday. The balcony will be packed with angry people who refuse to wear facemasks.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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