In what has been a fraught and at times contentious fluoridation debate process so far, one point of agreement has emerged among the primary participants.
Though their recommendations on water fluoridation vary, three out of three groups involved agree that Frank Coppola, the consultant hired by the Meadville Area Water Authority to coordinate the May 4 community discussion of the issue, has helped to make organizing the event as smooth a process as possible. And while arrangements for the event have been finalized, Coppola’s efforts will continue as he serves as the moderator of the forum taking place in the Lew Davies Community Center, 1034 Park Ave., at 6:30 p.m.
The 72-year old Coppola began his career as a math teacher, eventually becoming principal of Meadville Area Senior High in the 1970s. The consulting firm he runs now is actually his third career — after working in education for a decade, he spent another decade in the private manufacturing sector.
“I’m a teacher at heart,” he said as he reviewed the details of the May 4 meeting last week, “so standing up in front of a group is natural for me.”
Coppola became involved with planning the fluoridation forum earlier this year when discussions began between Tim Groves and Mark Gildea, the two MAWA board members who made up the ad hoc committee tasked with planning the event.
“We discussed who would be leading the discussion and how it would probably be a good idea to have a third party involved,” MAWA board President Groves said. “We wanted the board to be able to focus on the discussion rather than worrying about time limits and whose turn it is and so on.”
Both Groves and Gildea were familiar with Coppola’s work through their positions with the city of Meadville and the Gildea Group, respectively.
Coppola had previously served as a consultant for the Meadville Redevelopment Authority in 2015 and assisted in developing the RDA’s strategic plan for eliminating blight and supporting small businesses.
“So we met with him and it worked out,” Groves said. “This will let us listen to the discussion more.”
One of the more interested parties who will also be listening to that discussion is Christopher Knapp, a leader of Clean Water Meadville, the group giving a presentation in opposition to fluoridation at the Thursday’s meeting. Knapp has previously been critical of the MAWA board for their original scheduling of the community discussion, the board’s absence from a Clean Water Meadville-sponsored lecture on the dangers of fluoridation in early April and on other occasions
But while Knapp has criticized the MAWA board, and in fact was turned down for the board seat that eventually went to Gildea in April 2015, his experience with Coppola has been very positive.
“Frank was instrumental in putting together a date for the event,” Knapp wrote in an email to the Tribune. “He is a consummate professional.”
Denise Johnson heads Meadville Smiles, the pro-fluoridation group that will also present on May 4. She offered a similarly positive review.
“Thus far we have found Frank Coppola reasonable to work with,” she told the Tribune in an email. “I have no reason to believe that he is not interested in a fair and impartial process.”
As he looked forward to the discussion of what is sure to be the most volatile local topic in recent Meadville memory, Coppola said his only position on the issue was a desire to see both MAWA board members and MAWA users make the most informed decision possible.
“Obviously, I want decorum at its finest during the presentations,” he said. “My role is going to be as mediator, making sure both sides are heard and making sure both sides have a chance to rebut the others.”
“This is an emotional issue, so the more information the better,” he added. “I want our democratic process to win.”
The meeting will feature 30-minute presentations from both Clean Water Meadville and Meadville Smiles. The presentations will be followed by rebuttal periods of 10 to 15 minutes for both groups. The floor will then be opened for public comment. Depending on the turnout, Groves has previously acknowledged, the evening could be a long one.
Coppola said that during the public comment period, first preference would be given to users of MAWA-supplied water. Each person will be allowed three minutes and can offer a comment or address questions to the experts. Both expert groups presenting will be allowed to respond to questions.
Coppola said that he would also encourage those unable to attend the meeting to submit their feelings through emails to MAWA.
MAWA originally had planned two meetings, but settled on one when the scheduling was delayed to allow Clean Water Meadville to make preparations to bring in a speaker.
Paul Connett, a retired professor of chemistry and senior adviser to the Fluoride Action Network, will present the case against fluoridation for the group. Connett has previously presented the case against fluoride around the world, from New Zealand to “The Alex Jones Show” to the website Infowars.com, and has co-authored “The Case against Fluoride.”
Johnson, chief medical officer at Meadville Medical Center, will present the case in favor of fluoridation. Also appearing in the pro-fluoridation corner will be Johnny Johnson, a pediatric dentist from Florida who serves as president of the American Fluoridation Society. While Denise Johnson will address fluoridation from a medical perspective, she said that Johnny Johnson will “speak to the other arguments that don’t have anything to do with the science and public health.”
For MAWA’s Groves, the most important thing is that those served by MAWA have their questions answered.
“It’s an interesting topic that’s for sure,” Groves said.