Ballad Health protester says proposed Kingsport ordinance violates first amendment rights


KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- For the past several months, a group has set up camp outside of Holston Valley Medical Center to protest Ballad’s decision to transfer trauma and neonatal intensive care unit to Johnson City.

In Monday’s work session- Kingsport’s Board of Mayor and Alderman discussed a proposed change in city ordinance that would allow for the removal of temporary or permanent structures from public rights of way.

“It says that the structure doesn’t remain but the person can remain in that area as long as they want to,” said Kingsport’s City Attorney Mike Billingsly.

Billingsley said people can obtain a permit to have a structure on a right of way. But the protest outside of HVMC, says the ordinance directly targets them.

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“It is a direct attempt for the city of Kingsport to impede upon our first amendment rights and we’re going to react, respond and treat it accordingly,” said organizer Dani Cook.

She says the city approached her about this new rule.

“I got a courtesy notice on Friday when the chief of police and the deputy assistant manager Ryan McReynolds came and visited me at camp,” said Cook.

If approved, the city would be able to fine those who don’t receive approval for having structures on public right of ways.

Billingsly says the rule change isn’t meant to target anyone.

Kingsport’s proposed addition to its city ordinance

“The sidewalks still are for pedestrian purposes and you still have to maintain a clearance for people- one to comply with the Americans with Disability Act and also because that’s what they’re designed for,” said Billingsly.

The first reading of this ordinance will take place at Tuesday night’s Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting.

Cook says she and her supporters plan to attend and voice their concerns about the proposed change.

SEE MORE: Ballad Health restricts protester Dani Cook’s access to HVMC; cites ‘disruptive’ behavior

The change would need a second reading before a vote can be made.

You can view the ordinance in its entirety starting on page 80 of the workshop agenda here.

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