KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – A protest against Ballad Health is in jeopardy in Kingsport after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a new city ordinance.
At its monthly meeting on Tuesday night, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed a change to city code prohibiting non-permitted structures on public right-of-ways.
The new code is set to take effect 10 days after the measure was approved.
The non-permitted structures mentioned in the new code could include tents, like the ones used in a protest encampment outside Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport.
Here’s a video showing a look at the Ballad Health protest site at the Holston Valley Medical Center:
Protesters of Ballad Health say the ordinance specifically targets their First Amendment rights.
Protest leader Dani Cook told News Channel 11 Wednesday that the City of Kingsport’s representatives in the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have “proven without a doubt that despite what they would like to say and the words in the ordinance, it is in fact, a declaration of war on our peaceful protest.”
For 203 days, Cook says the protesters have been exercising their First Amendment right and will continue with “business as usual.”
“We will wait to see exactly how the City of Kingsport goes about enforcing this brand new ordinance of theirs,” Cook said.
Kingsport Mayor Patrick Shull told News Channel 11 that the protesters have until the day after Thanksgiving to remove the structures, but may still continue their peaceful protest.
“Structures would not be permitted that interfere with the right-of-way as both a safety hazard and unsightly,” Shull said. “Protesters themselves can, they can walk up and down the sidewalk, holding signs, I mean, they can continue to in a safe and legal manner.”
Shull said that this code will be enforced much like any other in the city limits.
“We would ask them to voluntarily take it down and then if they refuse to comply, we would go into a legal process,” he said.
He added that the Kingsport BMA merely sets policy.
“We leave the execution of that policy up to the city manager and his staff,” Shull said. “I expect law-abiding citizens to voluntarily comply with the law.”
As a representative of the protest against Ballad Health, Cook said that she and other protesters are researching civil rights issues, seeking some ammunition to fire back at the BMA’s policy.
Cook mentioned to News Channel 11 that a poll was put on Facebook after the BMA meeting Tuesday night, asking anyone who might be interested in signing on as a plaintiff in any civil action moving forward against the City of Kingsport.
She said that, as of Wednesday morning, over 100 people said that they would sign on against the city.
The full text of the ordinance can be found in the Kingsport BMA’s meeting agenda.