Those opposed to the recent Meadville Area Water Authority decision are not going gentle into the good night of fluoridation, to paraphrase the poet Dylan Thomas. And while they may not have been raging against the decision, they certainly made themselves heard at Wednesday’s Meadville City Council meeting.
Seven opponents of fluoridation appealed to council during the public comment portion of the meeting, calling for action from council members who declared their lack of authority on the matter, as they have done repeatedly in the past.
“Don’t force it on the community,” Anne Furno told the council. “I hope other people get angry about this subject because it’s so important.”
“We live in America still, don’t we?” Furno added.
The MAWA board voted 3-2 in favor of fluoridation at a special meeting on June 14. MAWA is currently working on the design for the required equipment and is coordinating a pre-permit meeting with the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to Thomas Thompson, MAWA consulting engineer. The meeting is likely to take place in the next few weeks, Thompson told the MAWA board at its monthly meeting earlier in the day.
Before the fluoridation opponents took the floor at the end of the meeting, city attorney Gary Alizzeo suggested that any appeals for council members to take action were likely to be made in vain.
First of all, Alizzeo told the council, while council appoints the members of the MAWA board, only the board itself has the authority to make decisions regarding fluoridation.
Alizzeo next addressed the idea of allowing voters to express their positions on the issue through a nonbinding referendum.
“Historically, Pennsylvania used to do those, especially in the ’70s and ’80s,” Alizzeo said. “However, in 1990, the Commonwealth Court actually ruled that that’s not legal in Pennsylvania. There have been several cases on that, so even if council had the option to do that, you don’t have the legal authority to say, ‘Let’s put it on the ballot and vote on it.’”
Council member John Battaglia, who had suggested at a past meeting that the authority should vote against fluoridation, said council’s options for influencing the authority were limited.
“The only control we have is the next time their appointment comes up, we can not appoint them,” he said. “This is certainly not the first time elected officials have disagreed with authority members.”
Several fluoridation opponents rejected the notion that council had no authority on the issue.
One of them was Christopher Knapp, leader of the Clean Water Meadville anti-fluoridation group. While Knapp acknowledged that council members did not have the authority to approve or reject fluoridation, he insisted that they could take action on the issue.
“Your hands are not tied,” he told the council. “We’re looking for leadership. Leadership doesn’t say, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ There are things you can do.”
Knapp was also one of several fluoridation opponents who suggested that the MAWA board’s decision was unduly influenced by “special interests” and failed to adequately consider public opinion.
Opponents criticized the fact that a decision which will affect more than 15,000 people was made by the three board members who voted in favor of fluoridation.
One of those men was seated across from the council members hearing the complaints and concerns about fluoridation and the process of implementing it. Tim Groves, who chairs the MAWA board, attends council meetings in his role as the city’s finance manager.
Groves offered no further comments on fluoridation during the meeting.