PORT ANGELES — The City Council’s disputed 4-3 decision to continue fluoridating Port Angeles’ municipal water supply has seeped into an emerging tussle over who will be the city’s next mayor.
Councilwoman Sissi Bruch, a fluoridation opponent who won a second term in November, said this week she will nominate herself to be the city’s top elected official as an alternative to fluoridation proponents Brad Collins and Deputy Mayor Patrick Downie, who told the Peninsula Daily News that they, too, want to be mayor.
Under state law for weak mayor systems, the council elects a mayor for two years.
Support for each
Bruch has picked up the support of new City Councilman Michael Merideth, a fluoridation opponent.
Downie is supported by Councilman Dan Gase, who favors the practice.
Gase, Merideth, and council members Cherie Kidd and Lee Whetham told the PDN they were not interested in the position.
But Kidd, a former Port Angeles mayor, indicated she would not be averse to the council naming her deputy mayor.
“I would be interested in deputy mayor this year,” she said.
Kidd and Whetham would not comment this week on who they favored for mayor, a largely ceremonial position that includes a public role as “the face of the city,” Downie said this week.
Downie said council members are scheduled to vote on the mayor and deputy mayor positions at their regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
Bruch and Collins will be absent but able to participate by phone.
But Downie said the council might delay the vote until the next scheduled meeting Jan. 19 so the two can be physically present.
A recent contentious City Council vote to continue fluoridating city water has become a factor in the selection.
Collins, Downie, Kidd and Gase voted Dec. 15 to continue fluoridating the city’s water supply.
They did so despite the results of a council-sponsored advisory survey that showed city water customers inside and outside the city limits who responded were against fluoridation by a 57 percent-41 percent margin.
Bruch, Whetham and Mayor Dan Di Guilio cast dissenting votes.
Whetham and Di Guilio said they were duty-bound to abide by the survey, which the council commissioned.
The survey of 9,762 water users generated 4,204 responses.
Of the total, 2,381, or 56.64 percent, rejected fluoridation.
In voting for fluoridation, Kidd and Gase said anti-fluoridation views accounted for 24 percent of those who received surveys.
Kidd concluded that the majority of voters — 59 percent — had “no problem” with fluoridation because they did not return the survey or said on the survey that fluoridation was not an issue for them.
Bruch said the rationale pushed her to put her hat in the ring for mayor.
In a PDN interview earlier last month — before the fluoridation vote — Bruch said she supported Downie.
“He is interested. He works really hard for the city,” she said.
Then came the council’s Dec. 15 decision.
“People who voted came to count less because [Kidd and Gase] were including votes that weren’t turned in,” Bruch said this week.
“It didn’t feel right.”
Bruch also said having the mayor and deputy mayor be fluoridation proponents would add to the divisiveness created by the issue.
“We need to find a way of uniting the town,” she said.
“I just didn’t think that we needed to have them represent that.”
Whetham would not comment on his choice for mayor, contending the Dec. 15 vote had inflamed the community.
“I don’t want to do anything to add fuel to the fire,” he said Tuesday.
But Merideth, who won election in November to the Position 5 seat held by Di Guilio, who did not seek re-election, said Bruch needs to be mayor.
“We need leadership that can get back in touch with the people,” he said Wednesday.
“People feel disconnected with government right now after what happened.”
The mayor makes $650 a month, the deputy mayor $600 monthly and other council members $600.
Downie, 73, is a former program coordinator for Catholic Community Services-Volunteer Services of Clallam County and former owner of the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream store in Port Angeles.
He was elected in 2009 and 2013.
Collins, deputy mayor in 2012 and 2013, was the city’s community development director for more than 15 years and retired in 2013 as deputy director for resource development and capital projects for Serenity House of Clallam County, a homeless services agency.
Collins, 67, was appointed to fill Larry Little’s term in 2010, was elected to the position in 2011 and was re-elected in 2013.
Bruch, 55, is a planner for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.
She will begin her second four-year term in office this month after running uncontested in November.
Downie and Collins are serving the last two years of four-year terms.
Collins said the council traditionally chooses a council member for mayor who has two years left in office, which would leave Bruch out of the mix.
“I am just breaking with tradition for this one,” she said Thursday.
“This fluoride vote did a huge job dividing the city.
“That’s the only reason I’m putting my name out there.”