Business leaders pushed for structure ordinance impacting Ballad protesters, e-mails reveal

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- As Ballad Health protesters are about to see the sun set on day 225 of their demonstration in front of Holston Valley Medical Center, e-mails obtained by News Channel 11 suggest business leaders pushed for an ordinance that threatens to disband the protest.

On Wednesday, the protesters on Ravine Street were issued a violation notice stemming from a recently-passed city ordinance that restricts non-permitted structures on public rights-of-way, like the ones used for the demonstration.

SEE ALSO: Kingsport issues notice to Ballad protesters

If they fail to comply, a city spokesperson said they could be cited in court.

Protester Dani Cook told News Channel 11’s Jackie DeFusco on Thursday that they don’t plan on leaving.

“The city taking these actions only reinforces what the protest is about to start with,” she said. “The protest is about the government not taking actions in the best interest of citizens.”

On November 4, when the ordinance first appeared on a Board of Mayor and Aldermen agenda, Kingsport city attorney Mike Billingsly told News Channel 11 it was not meant to target anyone.

Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull has said multiple times that Ballad Health did not influence the introduction and passing of the ordinance.

News Channel 11 is still waiting for the city to return a more comprehensive public records request but e-mails obtained Thursday suggest the idea for the recently passed ordinance came from leaders at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.

In an e-mail dated September 25th with the subject line, “Ballad Protest,” former Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Bob Feathers said in part, “Pathetic mob instincts are causing harm to honest tax paying citizens. Many have published very negative thinks [sic] about any business I am associated.”

The e-mail goes on to read, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist you in a no-camping ordinance designed to inflict harm on ALL of us. Thanks.”

That e-mail was sent to Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull and City Manager Chris McCartt.

Mayor Shull responded saying, “I think you just said you support an anti-camping Ordinance especially if it will help us remove camping along Ravine Street.”

Kingsport Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Miles Burdine also weighed in saying, “I also support this. Let’s do this Mayor.”

Burdine sent News Channel 11 the following statement regarding the e-mail exchange:

“In 1977, I took an oath of enlistment with the United States Marine Corps.  In 1980, I took an oath of office.  Included in both of those oaths, was this promise, which I have memorized and which is embedded in my heart.  ‘I, Miles Burdine, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.  So help me God.’  I served 30 years as a United States Marine Corps officer.  Among my deployments were three tours to combat environments, so I did fight for and will continue to fight for freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest.  My stated support for the city’s plan is due to concerns about the safety and well-being of those who must pass next to these sites on their way to work, who are going to the hospital for medical care or to visit someone in the hospital, the safety of the protestors inside those camp sites, the aesthetics of the camp sites, the impact on business and the precedence being set by allowing camping on our city streets.  Freedom of speech and the right to protest are hallmarks of our democracy but when those actions start to cause safety issues and negatively impede on the well-being of others who are just trying to go about their daily lives, then it becomes necessary to take actions such as the city has done here.”
 

Miles Burdine, Kingsport Chamber president & CEO, United States Marine Corps colonel (retired)

In a text, Feathers told News Channel 11, “As a private citizen that exercised his rights to communicate his perspective with elected leaders, there is nothing more to add.”

Kingsport’s mayor and city manager could not immediately be reached for comment.

You can read the e-mail exchange in full in the documents below:

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