KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- It was a long, and at times heated public comment section during the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Alderman Meeting Tuesday night.
Despite public comments, BMA passed a change to city code on its first reading, prohibiting non-permitted structures on public right of ways.
The room was standing room only, and people who spoke were there to oppose an ordinance that could impact protesters that have been camped outside of Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport since May.
“You work for me, not Ballad Health. I realize Ballad Health can sign a hell of a lot bigger check than I can, but you still work for me sir, not them,” said Danielle Faulkner during public comment.
“Stating that this ordinance is about aesthetics and safety and not putting an end to the protest outside the hospital is about like saying, well, I guess its about like saying ‘wood blocks out on a park bench is about meeting an ADA arm rest requirement,'” said Crystal Reagan.
That group of protesters was led by Dani Cook.
“We have politicians who are passing legislation on behalf of corporations and special interest groups at the detriment of the public and the people,” said Cook.
During the public comment portion, she said the ordinance “is weaponizing its ability by targeting her peaceful protest.”
Tuesday’s meeting became so heated that the mayor had to threaten police action.
“I will clear this room with the police,” declared Mayor Pat Shull after ending the public comment portion.
Some aldermen think that this could have extreme consequences for the city, including lawsuits.
“I have yet to be presented compelling evidence that there are widespread issues not already addressed by city code, and moreover, I believe that this is an act that will have unintended consequences,” said Alderwoman Jennifer Adler during the discussion before the vote.
The BMA voted 4-2, passing it on the first reading.
After the vote, Cook and her supporters left the meeting and met in the hallway where she declared that this is not about her.
“I would be fine in a sleeping bag by myself, in 30-degree weather, my concern is for the people who come out with me,” said Cook.
The BMA will have another reading and vote on the ordinance later this month.
News Channel 11 reported Tuesday that Ballad Health is seeking vandalism charges against Cook.
According to a report from the Kingsport Police Department, officers responded to the medical center Monday after receiving a call from Ken Harr, Ballad Health’s Chief Security Officer, in regards to damaged property.
Harr told police a 24-hour sit-in protest has been ongoing since May 2019.
According to the report, Harr told officers that Cook has erected tents and tarps on the grassy area along the side of West Ravine Road and the sidewalk.
The report stated the grass has died as a result of the tarps and tents covering parts of the area. The cost to re-sod the area was $1,300, according to the report.
A supplement to that report revealed that there were concerns over who the actual owner of the property is.
Even if Ballad Health is deemed the owner, the damage done to the property was not enough to warrant felony charges, according to KPD.
The case was closed as “unfounded for criminal activity.”