Sara Rollins was, to put it mildly, unhappy Tuesday morning.
“Last night I saw an injustice that just outraged me,” she said.
Her outrage was sparked by the Billings City Council, which voted Monday night to begin adding fluoride to the city water supply without putting the question to a vote of the public.
Rollins, one of the organizers of the anti-fluoridation effort, met with other opponents Tuesday afternoon to plan a petition drive to overturn the fluoridation resolution. A sample petition was submitted later Tuesday to the county election administrator and the city attorney.
Rollins said her group also plans to circulate petitions to recall the mayor and the nine council members who voted in favor of the resolution.
“We are sick of having to clean up after the council when they make stupid decisions,” she said.
The council voted after hearing the testimony of 56 people, about evenly divided between supporters and opponents of fluoridation.
Councilman Dave Brown of Ward 2 made a motion to put the question to a vote of the people, but only Shirley McDermott of Ward 1 voted with him. City voters have defeated fluoridation proposals twice before.
On the main motion to approve the fluoridation resolution, only Brown voted no. Mayor Chuck Tooley joined the other nine council members in supporting the resolution.
Rollins said Mark Kennedy of Ward 3, who made the motion to adopt the resolution, would be the first councilman targeted for recall.
It is not clear what direction the recall effort would take. By state law, an elected official can be recalled only for “physical or mental lack of fitness, incompetence, violation of his oath of office, official misconduct or conviction of a felony offense.”
Under the oath of office, a council member swears to uphold the state and national constitutions and City Charter and “to discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.”
The petition to repeal the fluoridation resolution is a simpler matter. With a sample petition now in hand, Yellowstone County Election Administrator Duane Winslow will check the wording to make sure it conforms with state guidelines.
The city attorney’s office, which also has a copy, has 21 days to complete a legal review of the petition. Once the petition is approved, opponents will have 90 days to gather 6,806 signatures, representing 15 percent of the 45,373 people who were registered to vote in the 2001 city election.
For the issue to appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, the petition signatures would have to be turned in by Aug. 22, Winslow said.
There is some question as to whether the petitions could force the city to halt fluoridation plans until after the election. In the case an ordinance, if enough signatures are submitted within 60 days of its passage, the ordinance cannot be acted on until the public vote.
City Administrator Dennis Taylor said he asked Winslow and the city attorney to determine whether the same rule applies in the case of resolutions. He said his reading of the law suggests it does not apply.
Meanwhile, Taylor said the Public Utilities Department will begin working immediately on the purchase of equipment needed to introduce fluoride into the water supply. Utilities Director Carl Christensen said the department probably will be ready to begin adding fluoride in six months.
The equipment, estimated to cost $50,000, consists of a storage tank, pumps and monitors. The City Council resolution instructs Christensen’s department to bring the level of fluoride in the water up to 1 part per million. The natural fluoride level in the Yellowstone River, the source of city water, is 0.4 parts per million.
At this time of year, Christensen said, city residents use about 15 million gallons of water a day. Bringing the fluoride level up to 1 part per million would mean adding about 9 gallons of fluoride a day, he said.
At peak demand, in July and August, the water plant processes about 45 million gallons a day, but at all times of year the amount actually consumed remains steady at about 1 percent of all water treated and delivered, Christensen said. The annual cost of adding fluoride to city water has been estimated at $35,000.