PORT ANGELES — Fluoridation of the Port Angeles municipal water supply stopped Wednesday morning — at least until after a Nov. 7, 2017 advisory vote.
That’s when voters will tell the City Council their preference for or against fluoridation in an advisory election that the council members voted to accept as binding in a 4-3 vote Tuesday.
Mayor Patrick Downie, who voted Dec. 15 to continue fluoridation, sided Tuesday with council members who have voted against it after presenting the proposal.
The three-part decision stops fluoridation, calls for the vote, and pledges that council members will abide by it.
The historic decision changes a 10-year-old city practice of fluoridating the city’s water supply to prevent dental disease.
Downie joined council members Lee Whetham, Michael Merideth and Sissi Bruch to stop putting fluorosilicic acid in the city’s water and to hold the advisory election.
Councilmen Brad Collins and Dan Gase and Deputy Mayor Cherie voted against stopping fluoridation and against abiding by the pledge to follow the dictates of the advisory ballot, which council members are not legally bound to do.
Downie quoted extensively July 19 from a Peninsula Daily News editorial that urged a binding advisory vote. The editorial did not recommend that fluoridation should stop.
Downie reiterated Tuesday that his plan was “intended to be a compromise” in the face of deep community division over fluoridation that has spawned four ethics complaints against council members and repeated, intense City Council public comment sessions over the last year.
Fluorosilicic acid is no longer being added to the water supply as of Wednesday but will remain in the water for four or five days, said Craig Fulton, public works director.
He added that fluoride occurs naturally in the Elwha River, from which the city draws its water.
Residents Tuesday opposed to fluoridation criticized the council for having the advisory ballot, saying residents had already voted against the practice and opposed it overwhelmingly. The city had sent out an unscientific survey in November.
One woman said having a vote in 15 months would aggravate the very discord that Downie said he was trying to prevent.
“By proposing another vote, you are encouraging division,” she said.
“You do not have the right to the right to violate our bodies, our freedoms.
“Calling for yet another advisory vote further undermines your credibility.”
Eloise Kailin of Sequim, president of the anti-fluoridation group Our Water, Our Choice!, said Downie’s proposal “merits support.”
But an advisory vote “is a pointless, painful and divisive exercise,” Kailin said in a prepared statement, and hinted at further protests from fluoridation foes.
“We can protest the proposed fluoride election later (we think it is illegal),” Kailin said in the statement.
Council members considered putting the advisory ballot before voters sooner, in a special election before November 2017.
Special election dates before Nov. 7 are Feb. 7 and April 25.
But the idea gained little traction because of the cost.
A special election would cost the city about $30,000 as opposed to the approximately $1,000 it will cost in November, council member said.
Gase urged council members to abide by their Dec. 15 majority vote, saying they should accept majority decisions even if they end up on the losing side.
He said anti-fluoridation participants at Tuesday night’s meeting were polite and courteous but said that always hasn’t been the case — and suggested that Downie had succumbed to “bullying” from fluoridation foes.
Gase said that over the last several months they had displayed “bullying and harassment and outrageous behavior.”
Fluoridation opponents had suggested pro-fluoridation council members should be “tarred and feathered” and threatened council members’ businesses, livelihoods and families, Gase said.
“I don’t think bullies should win in school, and I don’t think bullies should win in the public sector when there is a democratic process in place,” he added.
Council members should not change their positions because of “the loudest” bullying, Gase said.
Despite voting to stop fluoridation, Downie responded that he still supports it.
“I’m not doing this because I’ve been bullied,” he said.
“I made this proposal because this community needs to move forward.”
Saying compromise is not “a dirty word,” he added that he put forward the proposal for the sake of “the health and wellness of the community.”
The Nov. 7, 2017 election also will include a binding ballot measure also put forward by Our Water, Our Choice! to change the form of government from a code city to a second-class city, with the intention of throwing out the entire city council.