A Nelson Marlborough District Health Board member’s claim that it was embarking on “water fluoridation by stealth” has led to a tense exchange with board leaders.
Board chairwoman Jenny Black called for a recess at a meeting of the community and public health advisory committee on Tuesday after she said committee chairwoman Judy Crowe was “abusing” her power.
Crowe raised concerns about an agenda item concerning the board’s involvement with the South Island Public Health Partnership.
The three South Island Public Health units have agreed in principle to form an alliance with community water fluoridation – identified as one of three initial projects in the agenda item.
The board has said it would not engage in discussions about water fluoridation until after the Government passed legislation to transfer decision-making powers on the issue to health boards.
Crowe voiced concerns that the board was telling the community its hands were tied until legislation was passed but at the same time “lining our ducks up” to endorse community water fluoridation.
She said the board was “falling short in honouring our values of integrity and respect”.
“The South Island Public Health Partnership’s involvement will be nothing short of water fluoridation by stealth and what I am concerned about is we are leaving our consumers still in the starting blocks.”
Chief executive Chris Fleming intervened to reject Crowe’s claim and said she had crossed the line into individual campaigning.
“We are not engaging in debate on fluoride because it is not on our programme at the moment. We are not doing things to line things up behind the scenes, we are working with the publicly-elected Government.”
Black said Crowe was in a governance position and had a responsibility to uphold to the policies and procedures of the health board.
Crowe said she was speaking because of concerns raised by the public.
Black said she did not believe that was the case.
“You are in a position of power at the moment and I think you are abusing it.”
Black called for the meeting to be recessed, which was seconded by all advisory committee members. When the meeting resumed, there was no further discussion about fluoride.
When contacted after the meeting, Crowe said she was unable to comment and said all requests for comment were to be directed through Black.
Black said the board policy was that Fleming and herself were the only spokespeople for the health board.