PORT ANGELES — An anti-fluoridation group submitted a petition Wednesday to the Port Angeles City Clerk’s Office that could lead to a new form of city government and new City Council elections.
Our Water, Our Choice! President Eloise Kailin of Sequim said the petition was submitted after an ad hoc fluoridation committee that issued a report at Tuesday’s council meeting failed to recommend ending fluoridation of the city’s municipal water supply.
“That’s the driver behind this whole unhappy mess,” Kailin said.
“Our goal is cessation of fluoridation.
“Now we move forward.”
The petition, which makes no mention of fluoridation, calls for a citywide election to change the form of government from a code city to a second-class city “in order to elect a full new city council.”
Kailin said the petition bears more than 1,000 signatures, far more than the 467 required to hold the election.
Proponents say if voters approve a change in government, it would be followed by a second election for all seven City Council positions.
Port Angeles changed from second-class to code status in 1971.
City Manager Dan McKeen said the petition will be reviewed by Clallam County officials.
County Auditor Shoona Riggs said Wednesday that her office and the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will check the validity of the petition and its signatures.
The Auditor’s Office will match signatures with voter registration rolls to reach 467 that are valid while the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office reviews the legality of the petition’s wording.
Riggs and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Wendt said they hope to complete their review by June 1.
The ad hoc fluoridation committee, headed by Councilman Brad Collins, who favors fluoridation, and Councilwoman Sissi Bruch, who is against it, reached a consensus “to support a school-related oral healthcare program that identifies students with severe tooth decay and makes referrals to an oral health care educator(s) supported by community resources,” according to the committee’s report.
But Bruch and Collins said there was no consensus on continuing or stopping fluoridation, so the committee did not address the issue in its report.
The petition was organized in opposition to the City Council’s 4-3 vote Dec. 15 — a decision the council reaffirmed by the same margin Jan. 19 — to continue fluoridation for 10 years after May 18, when the city’s 10-year agreement with the Washington Dental Service Foundation expires.
No contract has been signed, so any subsequent council could change the decision.
Our Water, Our Choice! attorney Gerald Steel says the change in government would require the subsequent election of a new City Council — with all seats open at once.
However, City Attorney Bill Bloor has said he is unaware of any state requirement that a new city council must be elected with the change in government.
The nonpartisan, Seattle-based Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) has said code cities also have broader, more liberally interpreted powers than second-class cities.
“The code-city state statute was designed to provide broad statutory home rule authority in matters of local concern,” according to the MRSC website, www.mrsc.org.
Said Steel, in a March 27 letter to the editor in Peninsula Daily News: “I believe that more powers for the council means fewer powers for the citizens.”
Wendt said Wednesday that the county’s review might require interpretive guidance from the Clallam County Superior Court in the form of a declaratory judgment on state law.
It’s rare, if it’s ever been done at all, for a city to change from code to second-class status, Wendt said.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a declaratory judgment “simply declares the rights of the parties, or expresser, the opinion of the court on a question of law, without ordering anything to be done.”
In a March 4 letter to Bloor and Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols, Steel threatened legal action against the county if a declaratory judgment is sought.
“Because the statutes are clear, OWOC [Our Water, Our Choice!] is informing you that any declaratory judgement action related to the requirement to elect ‘a full new city council’ to be frivolous and brought solely for purposes of delay,” Steel said.
“If such an action is filed, OWOC will seek sanctions.”
Steel reiterated his point in a March 27 letter to the editor in the PDN, saying the group would “consider frivolous (warranting sanctions paid to OWOC) any court challenge to block a vote.”
A request for declaratory judgment “would not be intended to block anything,” Wendt responded Wednesday.
“It would be intended to seek guidance on the best way to proceed forward.”
Kailin said she does not know when the change-in-government measure would go before voters.
“We’re asking it to be placed at the earliest legally acceptable election,” she said.
However, if voters approve making Port Angeles the state’s ninth second-class city early enough, then a new election for seven council seats could be held after the May 15-19 filing week for the Nov. 7, 2017, general election, Kailin said.
Up for election in 2017 are City Council positions held by fluoridation foe Lee Whetham and fluoridation proponents Brad Collins, Patrick Downie and Dan Gase.
“I would certainly implore people to look beyond the process of the petition to solve the problems of a group of people,” Gase said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The petition offers “the devastation of a potential change in government,” he added.
“It’s just mind-boggling that that direction would be undertaken.”
Whetham wasn’t optimistic that the present council would change course after May 18.
“I was looking for more out of the ad hoc committee,” he added.
“We, the undersigned registered voters residing within the City of Port Angeles, by signing this petition express our support for the holding of an election so the voters of the City of Port Angeles can decide whether to change from the current council-manager form of government under RCW 35A to the council-manager form of government under RCW 35 in a second-class city in order to elect a full new city council. RCW 35A.06.030 and 35A.06.040.
“Such change of classification shall not affect the then existing property rights or liabilities of the municipal corporation. RCW 35A.06.060.”