Lee administration says counties hold sway over cities on reopening policies

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on March 19, 2019, about his proposal to introduce an education savings account program in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s office clarified over the weekend that the six counties being given the leeway to chart their own course on economic reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic will be given the authority to make those decisions for cities located within their jurisdictions.

That decision has policy implications primarily in Knox and Hamilton counties, where Republican county officials have clashed with Democratic city leaders over the extent of lockdowns.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the city’s mayor, Andy Berke, disagrees with efforts to resume in-person dining at restaurants.

“Yesterday I learned that, despite public and private assurances otherwise, the city of Chattanooga would not be making its own decisions for the reopening of restaurants,” Berke said. “This has understandably caused a lot of confusion for a lot of people in our city,” Berke wrote Sunday, saying that he will abide by the governor’s decision. “Chattanooga will obey the law, and I will do everything possible to ensure its success. I want every restaurant to make payroll, and I want to protect as many Chattanoogans as possible from contracting the coronavirus.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who has decided to follow the governor’s plan for reopening the 89 of 95 counties, said it will be left up to local businesses to decide whether to resume business.

“No one is being forced to reopen, and no one is being forced to go to a restaurant if they do not think it’s safe,” Coppinger told the Times Free Press. “As we’ve said all along, this is the first small step to try to bring our economy back while maintaining safety protocols. All this does is allows restaurants the opportunity to choose to open.”

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced their joint plan on Monday.

Lee didn’t appear certain when asked last week whether workers would still qualify for unemployment benefits if they feel unsafe returning to their reopened place of employment.

In Shelby County, Democrats run both county government and the city of Memphis, though Republicans run most of the other municipalities. Nashville and Davidson County form a combined government.

The other two counties left to decide their own direction are Madison and Sullivan.

17 Responses to Lee administration says counties hold sway over cities on reopening policies

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    Raymonde kay Mize says:

    I feel we’re opening too soon we should give it 2 more weeks just to make sure. If this is not done right we will be back at this same point before August

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    MARLE says:

    What was the point of issuing WH guidelines if the President encourages States to violate them? The first Guideline was that re-opening should occur Only After a state has had 14 Consecutive days of declining cases.

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    John says:

    Big government conservatives imposing their will on communities. Nowadays being a conservative just means protect Leader Trump. Are the mayors of Knox and Hamilton going to inject disinfectant or take a heart attack inducing Hydroxychloroquine? It’s the best way to propel their careers to State Representative. Stand with Trump no matter the cost.

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    Beatrice Shaw says:

    We are DEFINITELY opening way too soon.

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      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      I know what you mean Bleading Heart Beatrice. It will be hard to have mile long breadlines come October, right before the Nov. 3 elections, if we start to open the economy NOW. I favor moderation and its good to see that there is a limit to even a Bleeding Heart’s bleeding when it comes to, for example, those made destitute from a government mandated closure, when political necessity calls.

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    steve cates says:

    “Lee didn’t appear certain”!! This says it all about this weak-as-water governor. He is, in my opinion, desperately trying to re-instate himself with the” trump base” in TN after they all but skinned him when he said that refugees are welcome here ( This is of the few things he’s done that does show his “christian”faith, about which he likes to often speak. Of course, his refusal, even with this crisis raging, to expand Medicaid in TN to help about 300,000 of his fellow Tennesseans get insurance totally negates that!)

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    JUDY R says:

    Before you get online and say something hateful about the mayor of your city, the governor of your state, the President of the United States, no matter how horribly evil or wicked you think they are, maybe what you should do is drop to your knees and say a prayer for each of them no matter what political party they belong too. I’m not sure any of us would do any better leading this country and, before you become an armchair quarterback, maybe you should become an armchair prayer warrior?

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      MARLE says:

      Kind of judgmental yourself, aren’t you Judy. How do you know they Didn’t drop to their knees in prayer before offering their observations.

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    Beatrice Shaw says:

    I know several people infected and this disease is NASTY. Multiple symptoms that continue to cascade into horror. You people please watch what you say. This virus is a killer

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      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      And it will continue to be such until we find a cure which is months away. Most of the horror, however, afflicts those over 60 years old especially those with preexisting conditions a majority of whom are retired and can quarantine themselves much easier and at less cost than the rest of the population. While waiting for a cure, however, the economy is moving along at depression levels and people at relatively little risk for something other than a NASTY case of the flu are becoming impoverished.

      We can’t go on like this for months until a cure is found. We needn’t turn the switch back on with a click, but we certainly should begin to turn the dimmer up a few notches.

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    Karen Bracken says:

    People are surely not paying attention. This pandemic is a fake. The numbers are fake. It is not about the FLU or our safety and you are all taking the bait.

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    Charles Sumner says:

    Please check the NutHouse. This Karen woman must have broken out. A fake worldwide pandemic? That would take a lot of doing. Is that KOOLADE she is holding?

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    Jim Bomprezzi says:

    Municipal Mayors should play it safe and make their own decision as to when to open each individual city based on the number of positive cases and deaths in each city. Going by zip codes is misleading and it is not being transparent with the Citizens. This should not be a decision made by Lee Harris and Jim Strickland. Transparency is important. Municipal Mayors speak out and take a stand and let the people know what the numbers are in each individual city of positive cases and deaths in each city.

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    Wayne S. says:

    The scientific approach would be to use reason to sort through the facts. In my mind there is no good science that says healthy people need to curtail the activities that support life and health. Let the people be free to decide what to do while respecting the personal right to personal space. So what if personal space has been enlarged to a radius of six feet or whatever. If you don’t want to be close to me then stay away from me. That is just simple human decency. One size does not fit all. If you get sick then you need to stay home. If you don’t hang out with contagious people you won’t get sick. This is not politics. It is common sense.

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