A local organization supporting the fluoridation of Erie’s public water supply vowed Wednesday to go to court to halt any attempt to place a referendum on fluoridation on the Nov. 6 ballot, co-chairman William G. Sesler said.
“There will be no referendum on the ballot,” said Sesler, a lawyer who represents Citizens for Better Dental Health. “It is illegal.” The group is made up of local dentists, community leaders and health officials, Sesler said.
Erie County Council on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to ask the Erie County Board of Elections to put the issue on the ballot. The Election Board is made up of council members who are not facing re-election this year: Joy Greco, Carol J. Loll, Fiore Leone and Council Chairman James B. Terrill.
Sesler said the Erie City Water Authority, even though it was created by the city of Erie, is an independent agency and ultimately has the sole power to determine whether the water will be fluoridated. “They are not subject to the control of the municipality that created them,” he said. “The city and county cannot control them.” As a result, he said, any ballot question involving the Water Authority’s operation would have to be advisory in nature and therefore nonbinding.
But a nonbinding referendum is illegal in Pennsylvania, he said. “The county Board of Elections is without the power to place nonbinding questions on the ballot.”
Sesler, a former state senator, said three separate Commonwealth Court decisions over the past decade “have ended the practice of placing nonbinding advisory questions on the ballot in Pennsylvania.” He said there also does not appear to be enough time to put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot, although the law is “very hazy” on that issue. “The answer appears to be no,” he said.
Sesler said he is confident that the courts would uphold an injunction to keep it off the ballot.
He said the organization supports fluoridation. “The evidence and practical experience of over 55 years is overwhelming,” he said. “It is so important and would help so many.”
Sesler outlined his views Wednesday in a seven-page letter to Erie County Executive Judy Lynch.
Lynch on Wednesday signed council’s resolution on the ballot question, but she said she’s not sure of the legalities of whether it can be placed on the ballot and that it is being researched. As to whether it should be placed on the ballot, she said, “I don’t want to tell City Council what to do. But when I look at the whole scheme of things, it appears to me fairer to give people in Millcreek, Harborcreek and other places that use city water an opportunity to have a part in this decision.”
She said she has mixed feelings about fluoridation. While it probably helps poor children, she said, “We do know that fluoridation presents a lot of problems to industry. That’s because if they use water in a process, they have to take the fluoride out. I don’t know how significant a problem it is for industry. It would be one more expense &mdash how big an expense I don’t know.”
Florindo J. Fabrizio, the county’s clerk of elections, said County Solicitor Arthur D. Martinucci is reviewing the laws on referendums. “We don’t have an official opinion,” Fabrizio said.
But Fabrizio said the Election Board cannot place a nonbinding question on the ballot. The question would be whether this referendum would be nonbinding.
He said it is unclear whether the referendum, if placed on the ballot, would be countywide or just for voters in areas served by the Water Authority.
Martinucci said he has just begun his research and doesn’t have any answers yet. He said his research will center on whether it is a binding or nonbinding referendum; who can put it on the ballot; and the deadline for doing it.
Terrill, who is not only the chairman of County Council but also on the Election Board, said he is waiting for a legal opinion on the referendum issue before discussing it.