The choice of whether the city of Gloucester should continue community-wide fluoridation may be posed to the city’s voters next fall.
Following a public hearing Tuesday night, the City Council voted 8-1 to allow its Ordinance and Administration committee to devise a nonbinding ballot question for the fall 2015 elections.
The vote came on a motion by Councilor-at-Large Greg Verga after a hearing that drew multiple speakers arguing both for and against continuing the use of fluoridation in the city’s drinking water, as Gloucester has done for decades. The lone dissenting vote against exploring a referendum question came from Council President Paul McGeary.
Once the council’s Ordinance and Administration panel devises a potential referendum question, it will then be up to the full council as to whether put any such question on the ballot.
However, since any question would be non-binding, if city voters decided they didn’t want to continue fluoridation, the council would then have to seek special home-rule legislation from the state Legislature to make the change.
“(Tuesday) night’s goal was only to send it down to (Ordinance and Administration) to look at the language of the question,” Verga said.
During the public hearing, members of the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network made a presentation detailing their argument for removing fluoride from the city’s water.
Michael Foley, a member of the network and one of the speakers, said Thursday that the presentation included the risks of continued fluoridation and the authority the state Department of Health has over the continued practice.
Foley said there were over a dozen speakers also against continued fluoridation, while several others spoke in favor of continuing the practice.
“I was surprised, there was a lot of people I’d never seen before,” he said. “People felt really passionate about it, besides people in our group.”
Matter of choice
Verga said he believes that fluoride in the public water supply should be a choice.
“I think it should be a personal choice,” he said. “I used the example (Tuesday) night, I got my flu shot last week. I went voluntarily and did it.”
Since fluoride has been said to be a preventative measure, he believes people should be able to decide if they want it. The current system of fluoridating the city’s entire water system does not offer a fluoride-free alternative.
Verga said he believes Ordinance and Administration should go back to the council by February and the council should make a decision around that time.
Verga said it’s important that the council made a decision to take action and that the public hearing was not just a session for people on both sides to vent.
“It’s not what representative government is about,” he said.
Foley said he and other members of the network plan to take a break on spreading the word about their cause until after the holidays are over.
“We’re very happy about it, but we’re also tired,” he said. “It’s a great time to take a rest. We’ll get back to getting the word out next year.”
Gloucester is the second Cape Ann community looking to allow citizens to vote on the fluoride issue.
Rockport’s Fall Town Meeting in September also called for placing a fluoridation question on its next election ballot, as well, following a vote in favor of this at its fall Town Meeting.