If the people of Billings don’t want fluoride in their water, members of the Billings City Council say they’re not going to force the issue by finding a legal loophole in the petition process against fluoridation.
During a work session Monday, several council members said they believe an anti-fluoride group will gather enough signatures on a petition to put fluoride to a public vote in November.
The group, led by Billings Realtor Clayton Fiscus, received approval for its petition Monday morning. Group members plan to man 20 polling places during today’s election to gather half the necessary signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the general election Nov. 5. They need signatures from at least 15 percent of the 45,373 people who registered to vote in the 2001 city election. Fiscus said Monday that he believes his group will obtain half of the 6,806 signatures Monday. They need to get the rest of the signatures by Aug. 22.
“We won’t have trouble getting those signatures,” Fiscus said. “This will be on the ballot in November.”
Two legal questions emerged as the petition drive gathered steam. The first issue was whether or not the city council’s resolution to add fluoride to Billings water was legislative or administrative. In 1998, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that an ordinance requiring residents of Whitehall to install water meters was not subject to referendum because it was more of an administrative rather than legislative decision. The city attorney’s office was divided on which category the Billings City Council’s decision fell.
The second issue was whether a resolution – which is what the city council made to add fluoride – falls under the same guidelines as an ordinance. An ordinance can be challenged within 60 days of its passage if enough signatures are obtained to put the issue to a vote.
Council member Shirley McDermott said she would have pushed for an ordinance to add fluoride instead of a resolution if she had clearly understood the difference between the two.
“I don’t think anyone wants to stop this petition drive or wants to stop the voters if they choose not to fluoridate,” McDermott said.
Council member Dave Brown questioned the purpose of the petition process in the state constitution if it can’t be used in a situation such as this.
“We’re not talking about fluoride here, we’re talking about law,” Brown said.
Council member Doris Poppler said the council made its decision to fluoridate too hastily and now must deal with the fallout.
“I think nobody here objects to the petitioners putting it on the ballot,” Poppler said.
The consensus of the council was to obtain the attorney general’s opinion on the ability of citizens to use the petition process to bring a resolution to a public vote, but to proceed as if the petition drive is successful and the fluoride issue is going to be on the county ballot in November.