Let’s start with a dirty trick.
Is the North Texas Municipal Water District playing honest with its almost 2 million customers when it disputes Erin Brockovich and says its water is as pure as a mountain stream?
The Watchdog doesn’t know the answer to that scientific question yet, but I can tell you something the district did that puts a big credibility question mark on its back.
I first heard about this dirty trick the other night at the Plaza Theatre in Garland. Two clean water groups have merged to relaunch the age-old campaign of how to remove fluoride and other chemicals from our water.
Jamie Stephens of Frisco was speaking on stage about her new group, Safer Water North Texas, which picked up 13,000 Facebook followers in only a few weeks. That’s remarkable, and it shows how concerned members of the public are about this topic.
Stephens was talking about how people from many Dallas area cities are coming together to ask questions and demand answers. And in a throwaway line in her talk she said it was important that if you want to get to the group’s website, you need to add the letter ‘r’ in the word ‘safer’ in their name, Safer Water North Texas.
Because if you leave out the ‘r’ and type in Safe Water, you’ll end up on the North Texas Municipal Water Districts’ information page.
Could this be true? Would any government agency purposely stoop to using this dark art of hijacking a web page with one mistyped letter when someone else creates a page that is counter to its beliefs?
Usually, it’s the opposite. A government web page you want to visit is hijacked by users typing in the wrong letter. The Watchdog showed you how this happens for the state’s driver’s license website, for PowerToChoose for electricity and for getting a free credit report. Type a letter incorrectly you could be dealing with scoundrels.
After the meeting at the Plaza Theatre, I returned to my desk to check the websites. Sure enough, that one ‘r’ in safe or safer makes all the difference.
The citizens’ activist group purchased the domain for SaferWaterNorthTexas.com on March 19 at 2:08 p.m., according to Internet registry whois.com.
The water district bought its SafeWaterNorthTexas.com on the same day at 2:37 p.m., 29 minutes later.
I asked water district public relations director Janet Rummel about this, and, frankly, I don’t like her answer very much.
“We had done it because we thought if people are searching for that, we wanted them to find our information in addition to theirs. It was something that we came up with with our cities.”
I said, “You could have picked any other web URL, except one with a letter different than theirs.”
She said, “We didn’t even know they had established a website. We just knew about their Facebook group at that time.”
What a coincidence.
It’s a dirty trick because the district could have used its own name — ntmwd.com — and used ethical search engine optimization techniques to provide customers searching for information an easy way to find their website.
By using a website with one letter off, it’s a blatant hijack. And people who hijack have no ethical standing. Sorry, water district.
Oh, and this is just not on the water district, but its 13 member cities who, the PR director says, helped come up with this idea. They are complicit in this dirty trick, too.
The Watchdog calls you out, Allen, Frisco, McKinney, Princeton, Farmersville, Royse City, Forney, Mesquite, Rockwall, Wylie, Garland, Richardson and Plano.
Note also that these 13 cities sell their water to another 67 area cities, so this affects 80 cities in all.
All y’all need to demand that the hijacked website come down. Stop playing the dark art of website hijacking. Go back to your ntmwd.com site and leave your critics’ site alone.
Cities could vote again on fluoride
These cities could soon have a bigger problem than a hijacked website, which was first reported by my colleague Jeff Mosier in his story “Erin Brockovich tells hundreds of upset North Texans to fight for better drinking water.”
The group Safer Water North Texas wants to organize petition drives in its member cities to put the question of fluoride removal back on the ballot.
Back on, because we’ve traveled in this time tunnel before. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, the question of fluoridization of our water was one of the biggest issues facing North Texas. In city after city voters either voted for or against fluoride.
Garland, where this week’s town meeting was held, accepted fluoride in 1965. Dallas did the same in 1966.
I’ve read the old stories about this. Back then, people were concerned about government intrusion into their lives.
Today’s debate is different, as it sounds like activists are worried more about chemicals in our water the same way many of us worry about chemicals in our food products.
You thought maybe you heard the last of this fluoride debate. But I think it’s about to boil up again.
If the district’s behavior is any indication, the district needs to be watched closely, and it will, surely, by these new watchdogs of our water.