Erie City Council voted Wednesday night to ask the Erie County Board of Elections to place the issue of fluoridating the metropolitan Erie water supply on the ballot for the Nov. 6 municipal election.
Council voted 4-3 to approve the resolution, sponsored by council President Mario Bagnoni, an outspoken opponent of fluoridation. The move was lauded by many of the more than 100 citizens who packed City Council Chambers Wednesday night to voice opinions both for and against fluoridation.
“All I ever wanted was for the people to decide,” Bagnoni said after the meeting.
A related resolution, sponsored by Councilman and Democratic mayoral candidate Rick Filippi, sought to ask the Erie City Water Authority to begin adding fluoride, a naturally occurring substance credited with preventing tooth decay, to the water supply.
It initially appeared that Filippi’s resolution also passed 4-3. But Councilwoman Rubye Jenkins-Husband, who said nothing when City Clerk James Klemm polled council members for their votes, later told Klemm she meant to vote “no” for Filippi’s resolution.
The vote on Filippi’s resolution was held after council members voted on Bagnoni’s request.
Jenkins-Husband said after Wednesday’s meeting she “got confused” on the council dais after voting yes on the ballot question resolution. “I thought because I voted yes for the ballot, they knew I meant no on fluoridation,” Jenkins-Husband said.
“If you don’t say anything, it’s a yes vote,” Filippi said. “As far as I’m concerned, it passed.”
Klemm said he recorded Jenkins-Husband’s vote on the Filippi resolution as a no, so the measure was officially defeated. “If Rick wants to challenge it, he can,” Klemm said.
Council members Bagnoni, Jenkins-Husband, Chris Maras and Larry Meredith voted in favor of Bagnoni’s resolution, with Filippi, Joseph Borgia and Mel Witherspoon opposing it.
Filippi, Borgia and Witherspoon voted in favor of asking the Water Authority to fluoridate the water supply, with Bagnoni, Jenkins-Husband, Meredith and Maras opposed.
On Tuesday, Erie County Council unanimously approved a resolution asking the county Board of Elections to place the issue on the November ballot. The county has said it is researching whether the referendum is legal, would be binding or non-binding, and whether there is still time to put it on the ballot.
Citizens For Better Dental Health, a local organization supporting fluoridation, has vowed to take legal action to stop any ballot referendum, co-chairman William G. Sesler said.
Sesler, who attended Wednesday night’s meeting, called such a referendum illegal.
A memo given to council members Tuesday by City Solicitor Greg Karle stated council’s resolution is a non-binding request. That means the Water Authority, according to Karle’s memo, “is under no legal compulsion to adhere to City Council’s vote either way.”
About 20 citizens, including more than a dozen local dentists, spoke out in favor of fluoridation Wednesday. About a dozen said they opposed adding fluoride to the water supply.
The Water Authority supplies water to all city of Erie residents and those living in parts of several surrounding municipalities.
The authority estimates start-up costs to fluoridate the water would be $500,000. Khalil Rabat, the water authority board’s chairman, indicated Wednesday the authority is willing to study fluoridation further before voting to implement it.