Kapiti council hopefuls have been warned not to take sides in the fluoride debate – at least not until after the election.
Kapiti Coast District Council sent a letter to candidates on September 20, warning them that if they committed to a position on fluoride and were then elected, they could be excluded from the decision-making process because of a perceived bias.
The council is due to start public consultation on fluoride in water straight after the election.
Councillor and mayoral candidate K Gurunathan said the warning confused the public and gagged the candidates – and he would not be holding back his opinion.
“I absolutely don’t care. It’s the right of the citizens during the election to get definite positions from the candidates. It’s a very critical democratic right.”
Mayor Jenny Rowan said it was not a “gag” order, and that council chief executive Pat Dougherty had acted professionally in advising candidates of the consequences of a predetermined position on the issue.
Councillor and mayoral candidate Ross Church said the council was right to issue the advice because bias would put the process and the council at risk.
“I’m not gagged, and I won’t have that. I will say what I think, but I won’t say something so definite that I’ve got a closed mind, because if you have, you open up your council to a judicial review.”
Mr Church said such a review could be costly, and he could give an opinion without being dogmatic about it.
Mr Dougherty said the council felt it was important to issue the advice because of the timing of the consultation process, and had given similar advice on the draft District Plan.
“We’re not saying they can’t talk about an issue, but what they can’t afford to do is show that they’ve got a closed mind on it.
“If they say ‘I’m opposed to fluoride and I will never, never support it’ then that makes it a little bit difficult to hear decisions on fluoride and make a decision with an open mind.”
It would be frustrating for voters to go through a consultation process and then find out a councillor was not able to vote on the issue because of a previously expressed opinion, he said.
A Department of Internal Affairs spokeswoman said it was entirely appropriate for councils to provide good practice advice to candidates, and to make them aware of the implications of things they said before elections.
Ross Church: Fluoride does a good job, but is available in toothpaste and tablets, so should be taken out of water to give people a choice.
Jackie Elliott: Will vote for a referendum and thinks each community in Kapiti should decide.
K Gurunathan: Should be central, not local, government’s decision, but would vote for a referendum or against it in the water.
Jenny Rowan: Does not support water fluoridation and would not support a vote for it.
Ivan Sage: Would vote against fluoridation.
David Scott: Would support reducing fluoridation to World Health Organisation recommended levels.
Gavin Welsh: Supports an online referendum on the issue.