Fluoride Action Network

Crowther: Fluoridation authority

Rutland Herald | December 13, 2022 | by Jack Crowther
Posted on December 13th, 2022
Location: United States, Vermont

Gordon Dritschilo’s “Writing on the Hall” column Saturday was a fair and accurate summary of recent actions before the Rutland City Board of Aldermen on the fluoridation issue.

I would, however, like to provide additional context regarding the issue of who has authority to fluoridate the city water supply.

I have previously expressed doubt that the public works commissioner has the authority under the city charter. Anyone examining the charter will see the language of the charter is very general. It says the commissioner “shall have the exclusive general management and supervision of the City water works and may make and enforce regulations regarding the use and control of water.” Nothing about adding medicine to the water to treat tooth decay or provide any other health benefit.

As far as I can tell, the authority of the commissioner in the past was an assumption based on the above wording and a desire to pass a political hot potato onto someone else. That was why, in November 2021, when I requested a fresh look at fluoridation, I wanted clarification on the “right to fluoridate” issue. I conveyed that request to Alderman Chris Ettori, who was to conduct the fluoridation review as chair of the Public Works Committee.

When the committee finally reviewed fluoridation on Oct. 19, Chairman Ettori had obtained an opinion that the city attorney considered the authority to fluoridate to rest entirely with the public works commissioner. I never saw the opinion in writing. Ettori delivered the news orally at the Oct. 19 hearing.

At that point, we had a formal answer to the question of authority to fluoridate. I was disappointed, but there seemed to be a possibility of changing the authority. Ettori reported that the aldermen could pass an ordinance to strip the power from the commissioner. In other words, the elected representatives of the people might take over that authority.

With that in mind, when I went before the Board of Aldermen Nov. 7 to participate in the discussion of fluoridation, I asked the board to consider the adoption of an ordinance to end the commissioner’s authority. That’s when Ettori admitted he had misconstrued City Attorney Bloomer’s opinion on ending the commissioner’s authority. In fact, only a change to the city charter would remove that authority, Bloomer said. The adoption of an ordinance was no longer an option, and my approach was derailed.

Fluoridation is outside the public works commissioner’s wheelhouse of expertise. He is not a doctor. It is notable that, during reexamination of fluoridation, opponents and proponents of the measure testified but not the public works commissioner, the one with the decision-making authority.

I admit I should have insisted he take part, but I felt and still feel that, if an unethical, unsafe and marginally effective health measure is to be enacted, it is the aldermen who should make the decision. Commissioner Rotondo has promised me a written statement on his reasons for fluoridating, which I’m waiting for. He told me in person, however, he felt he could not go against the recommendations of the authorities in the field, which I took to mean public health officials and dentists of the American Dental Association.

Having now declined to put on the March ballot a charter change to end fluoridation, the aldermen are at least on record pro and con on fluoridation, an accountability they have avoided until now. Based on the voice vote Dec. 5, only Alderman Anna Tadio was willing to let voters weigh in on the proposed charter change. While Alderman Tom DePoy is against fluoridation, he didn’t support the charter change referendum.