Safe Water Advocates of Burlington, an anti-fluoride group, has asked Chittenden Superior Court to instruct the city to change the wording of question nine on the March 7 ballot to the wording that was on a petition signed by approximately 1,250 Burlington voters.
Monday morning the court had not received proof that the city had been notified of the action, Court Clerk Diane Lavallee said. Kevin Ryan, a representative of the anti-fluoride group, said the petition was filed late last week and has been assigned a court docket number.
The lawsuit requests the court to order the city “to print ballots with the article as drafted by the petitioners appearing on the face of the ballot.”
The wording on the petition read: “Shall the City of Burlington discontinue the practice of fluoridation in the water supply?”
The wording on the ballot reads: “Shall the City Council be advised by the voters to discontinue the practice of fluoridating the public water supply?”
The group’s application to the court notes that the wording change was made by the city attorney without the approval of those who signed the petition and cites a state statute requiring that the ballot shall “contain any article or articles requested by petition signed by at least 5 percent of the voters of the municipality.”
“I don’t see anything in any law that says you have to go to the City Attorney’s Office to get pre-approval of the wording,” Ryan said Monday. “They said, ‘The question is going on the ballot, but our question, not yours.'”
In a message to the group’s leadership about the court action, Ryan noted that the City Charter prohibits the city from spending money beyond “necessary operating expenses … unless authorized by the legal voters to do so.” The group argues that the City Council might have no power under the charter to authorize fluoridation.
The city-written wording of question nine, the group argues, might extend unwarranted authority over fluoridation to the council.
Assistant City Attorney Ken Schatz said Monday that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit. He said the city’s position is that fluoridation “is within the authority of the City Council.”
Ryan said he had spoken with Schatz. The group will meet tonight, he said, and decide whether to accept a city proposal to post the original language of the petition and its explanation of the change in wording at each polling place.
“I wanted to get a resolution to this weeks ago,” he said, “but the city said it was within their authority to do what they were doing. We wanted to make sure people know what’s going on.”