PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has voted to abide by a public advisory vote to keep fluoride out of the municipal water supply and to remove fluoridation equipment.
The council voted 5-2 Tuesday to pass a resolution that adheres to the outcome of the vote, directs staff to surplus and dispose of the city’s idle fluoridation equipment and removes any remaining fluorosilicic acid from city facilities.
Councilman Dan Gase and Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd opposed the resolution while supporting the public vote to not resume fluoridation.
The city stopped fluoridating the water in August 2016 after the council voted 4-3 to end the longstanding practice. The majority agreed to maintain fluoridation facilities, hold the Nov. 7 advisory vote and adhere to the outcome of the election.
More than 57.5 percent of city voters who cast a ballot last month said they were opposed to resuming water fluoridation.
The certified tally was 3,194 opposed and 2,358 in favor, a 57.53 percent to 42.47 percent difference.
“This has been a long time coming,” Councilman Lee Whetham said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I would hope that the rest of my fellow council members will support the majority of the voters.”
Gase and Kidd said they respected the majority of the voters but questioned the merits of the resolution.
“This is a resolution to do something that we’re not doing,” Kidd said.
“There is no fluoride in the water.”
Gase said the resolution was akin to a vote saying that the city would not offer swimming lessons in Vern Burton Community Center, which has no pool.
“I think the resolution is quite frankly a waste of the legal department’s time, and it’s a negative motion instead of a positive motion,” Gase said.
“And I think it’s quite frankly kind of rubbing the nose of the medical community into the whole thing.”
Many health care providers, including Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Christopher Frank, have supported water fluoridation as a way to help prevent dental disease.
Others, including retired Dr. Eloise Kailin of Sequim, president of the anti-fluoridation group Our Water, Our Choice!, have said fluoride is harmful to people and the environment.
“With fluoridation stopped, those who want fluoride can get it from their toothpaste,” Kailin said in comments to the council.
Kidd said the resolution was inconsistent with the August 2016 motion. The motion said the city would maintain fluoridation facilities and Section 2 of the resolution says the facilities will be declared surplus.
“Page 2 is in contradiction to Page 1,” Kidd said.
Kidd added that the resolution omits a “significant promise” that the council made to fund public health education for oral health in lieu of fluoride.
“Many of our children come to school, don’t brush their teeth, aren’t taught good personal hygiene,” Kidd said.
“We had a balancing promise that if we discontinued fluoride, we were going to have public education.
“I don’t see that in there. It needs to be in there,” Kidd said.
Kidd made a motion to remove Section 2 from the resolution and add a Section 4 for public education for oral health. The motion died for a lack of a second.
The city was under a 10-year contract with the Dental Service Foundation for water fluoridation that expired in May 2016.
The city held numerous public meetings and public comment periods on fluoride, some of which were highly contentious, from October 2015 through much of this year.
Mayor Patrick Downie voted with a 4-3 majority to continue fluoridation in December 2015.
Downie flipped his original vote in August 2016 and sided with a new 4-3 majority that voted to stop fluoridation, joining council members Whetham, Michael Merideth and Sissi Bruch.
“For some time, I’ve sort of felt like ground zero on this matter,” Downie said.
Downie stood by his motion to end fluoridation in August 2016, citing community division.
“It saddened me deeply,” Downie said.
“We had some very contentious meetings here. We weren’t very civil with one another.”
After the first ballots were counted Nov. 7, Downie said an anti-fluoridation resolution was unnecessary.
Downie said he was willing to support the resolution Tuesday.
“I’m going to vote for what I said I would do, and that is to honor the results of the [advisory] vote that I had said we needed to have,” Downie said.
Whetham said he was prepared to support either outcome in the advisory vote on fluoride, which garnered more votes — 5,552 — than any other citywide measure or contested City Council race.
“The important thing to me was to have voter input, a voter decision,” Whetham said.
Whetham agreed that the city was in “disarray” during the fluoride debate.
“That’s what I’m going to call it because this was contention from the word go,” Whetham said.
“But I don’t feel right making a decision about what anyone should ingest. I thought that belonged in the hands of the voters.”
Near the end of the 4½-hour meeting, Councilman Brad Collins said he did not support having a public vote on a public health issue, saying it blurred the line between science and politics.
“I did become convinced that the state is wrong in having the City Council or the public make these decisions,” Collins said.
“I think it needs to be done by the state of Washington public health.”
In a Thursday interview, Kailin said she was satisfied with the language in the resolution and was prepared to put the issue to rest.
“This resolution is clear and effective and it provides an immediate remedy to the unrest we have lived with for over two years,” Kailin said in prepared remarks that she provided to the council.
“Pass this resolution tonight and we are done, long term done. Christmas comes early. We can all get on with our lives.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].