For the first time since the 1970s, Hastings voters will decide if fluoride should be added to the city’s water supply.
On Monday, the Hastings City Council unanimously approved putting the issue of fluoridation on the Nov. 4 election ballot, rather than leaving that up to petition circulators.
In April, the Nebraska Legislature passed LB245, a bill that now requires all communities with more than 1,000 people to fluoridate their water supply by June 1, 2010.
However, citizens have the ability to circulate petitions and put the issue on the ballot to stop the addition of fluoride. Hastings residents last voted on the issue in the late 1970s when the addition of fluoride was defeated.
Elected officials in both Grand Island and North Platte have already decided to put the issue on the November ballot in those communities.
The Hastings City Council voted in favor of putting the issue on the ballot in Hastings Monday in an effort to encourage more public discussion on fluoride.
“The majority of the folks I’ve had discussions with don’t know which way to go,” said council member Phil Odom. “They hear both sides and they would like to hear a good public discussion.”
He said by putting the issue on the ballot, he is encouraging people on both sides of the issue to lead a ‘good scientific discussion’ on the pros and cons of fluoridation.
“Let’s put cost aside and discuss the evidence. Is it good for you or isn’t it?” Odom asked.
Council member John Harrington said he agreed with Odom’s thoughts on the issue after receiving numerous calls over the last several weeks from residents.
“I think we all know there is some division within the community and I think given that, it’s probably just fair to go ahead and put it on the ballot,” he said.
Harrington said he thought it was also important that the council do this in order to ensure that the proper ballot language is put on the ballot. He was referring to the ballot language as recommended by the Nebraska League of Municipalities and the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office.
At the June 9 council meeting, rural Hastings resident Marvin “Butch” Hughes asked the council to consider proposed ballot language that would prohibit Hastings Utilities from using a certain type of chemical fluoride that has been known to cause health problems in humans in other states.
During Monday’s meeting, mayor Matt Rossen asked why that petition would need to be put on the ballot if the chemical is already illegal in Nebraska.
City attorney Bob Sullivan said that if a petition was circulated and the proper signatures were received both the city’s ballot language and that proposed by Hughes would both go on the ballot.
Hughes told the council that if his ballot language was not put on the ballot by council, he would still circulate the petitions and work to put the language on the ballot.
The council voted to use the ballot language as recommended by the league.
“As a result of the quietness and the fact that its not on the agenda, it makes me believe there is not a concern about the total health of a human over his lifetime,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he agrees with the health professionals in support of fluoride that healthy teeth are an important issue for all people. He said his concern is that a fluoride mix would be used that could be harmful to “youngsters, infants, old people and people who have improper diet”.
Jessica Meeske, a pediatric dentist in Hastings and Grand Island, spoke with the council during the public comment section expressing her disappointment in the council’s plan to put the issue on the ballot.
She said that fluoride can be considered to be a controversial issue; however, she said there have been hundreds of controversial issues out there that have not gone to a vote of the people because they were important issues the city needed to deal with.
“If you think fluoridation is controversy, think about quarantining people from their families,” she said referring to the plague and to a possible bird flu pandemic.
She stated a number of reasons people have argued that the issue should be put on the ballot. Those arguments included scare tactics about the potential health problems some link to fluoride; the fact that fluoride was voted out of the community in the 1970s and that both Grand Island and North Platte have put the issue on the ballot.
“It’s not about oral health of those people. It’s about the oral health of people in our community,” Meeske said.
She argued that it should be the burden of the petitioners to put the issue on the ballot. And then if its put on the ballot, that’s fine. However, she said it should not be a decision made by the City Council.
Council member Everett Goebel said he initially thought the issue should only be put onto the ballot by petition. He said the wording from the Nebraska Legislature was the only thing that changed his mind.
He said he just hopes an adequate amount of appropriate and truthful information is distributed prior to the election.
Harrington agreed saying he hoped there was fair and open discussion prior to the election.
“I would hope we would pay special attention to those that know most about it, our dental and health professionals,” he said.