Pandemic partnership or awkward threesome?

Betty BeanKnox Scene

So there she sits, an apolitical petunia in an onion patch of polarized pandemic politics – probably not a place Martha Buchanan, MD, ever aspired to be.


Director of the health department for 10 years, she makes more money than any other public employee paid exclusively from local coffers – more than the county mayor and way more than the mayor of Knoxville. The medical examiner/coroner’s paycheck is bigger, but that’s a regional office funded by multiple local government entities.

Knox County first hired Buchanan as assistant public health officer in 2004. She became the public health officer two years later and was promoted to the directorship in 2010. She’s board certified in family practice and is a member of the American Academy of Family Practice and the Tennessee Academy of Family Practice. She’s hard working, smart and personable. A graduate of Carson-Newman and the Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, she is, as we like to say, from here (accent on ‘from’). She has a shoulder-to-the-wheel work ethic and never had to fool with the media much beyond seasonal mosquito warnings, annual flu shot drives and letting the public know which restaurants had dirty kitchens.

This changed rather abruptly when the governor declared a state of emergency and business shutdown on March 12. He didn’t much want to, but had no other option when a novel (meaning brand-new) virus started striking down his constituents.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, the highest-ranking local Democrat, had already embraced the effort. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs came in complaining. Guess that’s the difference between a liberal/progressive Democrat and a self-identified government-hating Libertarian.

So here he sits, on your right – a professional wrestler/libertarian who claimed to distrust and dislike government even as he ran for an office that does little more than provide public services like the health department.

Over on your left there’s Kincannon, Jacobs’ polar opposite. She grew up in a household that valued public service – her father headed the U.S. Census Bureau for a time – and she studied public administration and policy in college and graduate school. Days before the governor’s edict forced local governments to act, she was wearing a mask and shutting down bars and restaurants.

The county followed suit when the state order came down, but not without a good deal of bellyaching from Jacobs, who, like the president, refuses to wear a mask in public.

Now we’re opening back up, with Kincannon advocating caution and Jacobs spurring the process on: our local Pelosi and Trump.

In the middle sits Fauci – I mean Buchanan – trying to keep the peace and to do what is medically necessary. Under the law, she has the final say in how these things go. But those are words written on paper.

Jacobs signs her paycheck, which means she’s in a very difficult position. But then, not unlike Trump with Dr. Fauci – Jacobs is, too.

Betty Bean is a veteran reporter for Knox and Sevier counties.

 

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