ROCKPORT — The town’s selectmen have voted to petition the state’s Legislature to put a question on an upcoming that would let voters decide whether they want to continue using fluoride in their drinking water.
The selectmen’s vote, which passed 4-0 Tuesday night with member Wilhelmina Sheedy Moores absent, reflects the outcome of last week’s Fall Town Meeting to put the question, “Are you in favor of discontinuing the fluoride supplementation of the Rockport Water Supply?” on the next state or local election ballot.
“The issue will be assigned a bill number and will need to pass the House and Senate,” Sarah Wilkinson, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, wrote in an email to the Times. “If it does that, we can place it on the ballot,” she added. “If it passes at the ballot, it becomes law.”
Brian W. Riley, an attorney with Kopelman and Paige, the town’s Boston-based law firm, had written previously that there is no authority for a town to place a binding question on a ballot except through specific provisions, including a special legislative act. But the selectmen may file for a special act that would either order the reduction or elimination of fluoridation, “or authorize a binding ballot question,” he wrote.
At the Town Meeting Sept. 8, anti-fluoride activists and pro-fluoride representatives duked it out verbally for the better part of an hour over whether fluoride is harmful or vital to residents’ health. Attendees ultimately voted 116-97 to direct the selectmen to petition the General Court — or the state Legislature — to put the fluoride question on the ballot.
“A few of us spoke, (and) felt that, even though the vote at town meeting was non-binding, the majority of people who attended the meeting supported us petitioning to have the question put on the ballot, and we are fine with that,” said Wilkinson.
Selectman Paul Murphy said the meeting went as expected, and that the State House is expected to get back to the board soon — though probably not soon enough for the November ballot.
“I hope in the meantime that both sides will hold workshops and programs for people to get educated on both sides of the issue,” said Murphy.
“I hope this will give the opportunity for people to get educated on (fluoride) if they haven’t already.”