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Decision to name health department after Hankal reversed

In response to concerns from health department officials and members of the community, the County-Owned Property Committee voted last week to revise the naming request approved during its August meeting.
Mary Alexander, representing The Langston Heritage Group, proposed naming the health department the Dr. H.D. Hankal Washington County-Johnson City Health Department during the Aug. 7 meeting.
The Langston Heritage Group is composed of graduates of Langston High School, which served black students in Johnson City until court-ordered desegregation in 1965. The organization is committed to researching the history of African-Americans in East Tennessee.
Alexander listed Dr. Hezekiah B. Hankal’s contributions as a physician and minister in Washington County, and said he deserves recognition from the city and county. “You see so many things named after people who you don’t have any idea what they did,” she said.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson suggested placing a plaque inside the building honoring Hankal.
“That’s nice, but it’s not the same,” Alexander responded.
Though Washington County owns the building, Mayor Dan Eldridge questioned whether the state health department would need to approve a naming.
Then-County Attorney John Rambo said the organization is a state/county hybrid, and he could not comment without further research.
Despite having no clear answer, the committee approved the request, with a plan B of naming the building for Hankal and placing its designation as a health department underneath.
“We were sort of surprised and shocked a little because nothing had been said to us,” Tim Carson, director of the Washington County-Johnson City Health Department, said during the Oct. 10 committee meeting.
Carson made a request to speak to the County-Owned Property Committee regarding the naming during its September meeting, but had to be out of town and was unable to attend. Committee members voted to move the topic to the October agenda.
“We certainly feel like Dr. Hankal deserves to be honored, but we have some serious reservations,” Carson told committee members.
According to Carson, changing the name would confuse customers and be a barrier to service. In addition, changing the signs on the building and Princeton Road would be expensive, and there are other deserving individuals who spent their entire careers in public health.
Carson also reminded committee members the health department is a joint operation between the city, county and state, and the name should not be changed without approval from the Tennessee Department of Health.
“Our recommendation is to designate our primary care wing (for Hankal),” he said, offering a second option of placing a plaque inside the front door designating the building in Hankal’s honor, but making no name change.
Alexander said she contacted the state health department and the email she received indicates the naming authority belongs to the commission and the mayor because the building is owned by the county. “People get used to change,” she added.
The decision may not be that simple. Ferguson said he has received calls from community members about the proposed change. “No one thought it was undeserved, but they asked how we can name it for one and not others,” he said.
Commissioner Doyle Cloyd also received feedback about the change. “From what I’ve heard from the doctors who called me, there are others who deserve the designation,” he said.
Alexander shot back, “How many, and were they directors of the health department?”
Chair Phyllis Corso called for order and requested committee members wait until she gave them permission before speaking.
“In any endeavor, there are other deserving individuals, but Hankal was unique,” Corso said. “I want us to give consideration to maintaining our history.”
Commissioner Alpha Bridger had no problem with the proposal. “We have a building named for (former county mayor) George Jaynes two blocks away, and he’s still alive,” she said.
According to Carson, most health department namings are in recognition of a gift of land or large cash donation.
Hankal’s gift was his life, Corso argued.
Cloyd made a motion, seconded by Bridger, to recommend separate signage be placed on the building declaring it the Dr. H.B. Hankal Building, with no change made to the name of the actual health department. The motion passed unanimously.
Alexander requested the resolution to the commission include a statement that the building’s name will follow any relocation of the health department.