Bradford, Vt. — Two residents are spearheading a petition to reverse the Water and Sewer Commission’s decision to stop fluoridating the town’s water supply.
Dr. Robert Munson, a dentist, and Larry Coffin, Historical Society president and retired town moderator, said they started the petition this week following a backlash to the commission’s decision to remove the fluoride.
More recently, Bradford residents were on edge after the Water and Sewer Commission brought up the fluoride issue at a regularly scheduled meeting, but didn’t list the topic on the agenda. At that December meeting, the commission voted to reaffirm its decision to remove fluoride from the town’s water supply. Each board member stuck with their original vote — with four members voting in favor of the removal and one abstaining.
“Even those who felt the board made the correct decision faulted them for the way they made it,” Coffin said, referring to charges of a lack of transparency.
He pointed to the six month gap between when the fluoride was removed and when residents were notified as an example of the lack of transparency between the water board and its residents. When the decision was made, the public was not notified in a timely manner, he said.
“I think that most agree the way the commissioners did it was less than open, so now there are two things going here,” Coffin said, citing the wording on the petition. “One is to hold a special evening meeting to put the decision in the hands of voters. Second, is to encourage the voters to vote to reestablish fluoridation.”
To date, Coffin said he gathered a handful of signatures and Munson said “in just one day” he collected 11. The two said they hope to have the petition submitted by Tuesday . They need to collect a minimum of 45 signatures from property owners connected to the town’s water line .
According to Commission Office Manager Bridget Simmons, it is unknown as to whether the special meeting to be called would be separate from the Feb. 20 informational meeting that was set up last month to further allow residents to express their opinions on the flouride decision .
The special meeting will be separate, however, from the March 5 Town Meeting, Coffin said.
The technicalities are still being worked out as to who specifically will have to call the special meeting — the Water and Sewer Commission, or the Selectboard.
Vermont Leagues of Cities and Towns Executive Director Steven Jeffrey said although the Water and Sewer Commission has the authority to oversee the public water supply, “they don’t have the authority to call special town meetings,” per state law — only the Selectboard can do that, he explained.
The wording on the petition currently points at the Water and Sewer Commission to call the meeting. Although the wording may need tweaking, Coffin said, “if we need to reformulate the petition and address it to the Selectboard we will.”
One thing Coffin and Munson said they made clear on the petition was that they wanted an “evening” meeting.
“Otherwise what they (the board) would do is bury it somewhere. They could call it at 10 a.m. if they wanted it to,” Munson said.
Commission Chairman Robert Nutting said yesterday he had no objection to the petition.
“I assumed, myself, that there would be a petition going around and if that’s what the people want, that’s fine,” Nutting said, and added he stood by his original decision to stop water fluoridation.
Nutting said his inclination was the fluoride debate would eventually go to a public vote.
The commission previously cited finances and downed equipment as two reasons for stopping fluoridation in the spring, Nutting said, along with “how much is too much fluoride.”
More than 50 residents debated that statement in late November. Supporters of the commission’s decision cited involuntary chemical ingestion and negative health effects, while opponents argued the positive health benefits of fluoride, such as preventing tooth decay.
Selectboard Chairman Ted Unkles said the town charter makes it clear that the Water and Sewer Commission has the sole authority to manage and operate the water system — which further confirms that the decision the commission made to remove the fluoride was legal.
“I don’t have a problem with the Water and Sewer Commission being independently elected or operating the system without having to consult with the Selectboard, but they do have an obligation to be open and up-front with the users of the district,” Unkles said.
For the future, Coffin and Munson said they hope the fluoridation debate will set a precedent for why boards and commissions should function transparently.
“When major decisions are made, they ought to get input before or as they are making the decision and put it out there and trust the voters. That’s what democracy is,” Coffin said.
Munson, however, went beyond ethics and said he would like to see Bradford’s politics redefined — as he said he sees “duplication of government.”
“Municipal government should work where there is a governing board, like the Selectboard, who is ultimately accountable for all the other boards and commissions under them,” Munson said.