LAYTON — Bill Luce, who as a member of the Davis County Board of Health pushed for water fluoridation, is co-owner of a company now designing fluoridation systems for cities and water companies along the Wasatch Front.
That bothers fluoridation opponents, who have been writing letters and e-mails to elected leaders and newspapers, grumbling about what they see as a questionable practice if not an outright conflict of interest.
“He [Luce] wasn’t pursuing contracts at the time [he was on the health board], so technically he’s OK,” said Kaysville resident David K. Hansen, a fluoridation foe who is attempting to get a revote of the 2000 countywide approval to fluoridate the water supply. “But it just bothers us that he would be rewarded when now we know they deceived us.”
Hansen was alluding to a belief — shared by Layton leaders — that the Davis County Health Department deliberately low-balled the predicted costs of fluoridating the water supply so that voters would endorse fluoridation.
Opponents also are perturbed by recent revelations that the Health Department spent public money on the fluoridation push. The Layton City Council called the expenditures “offensive” in a recent letter to the Davis County Commission and Health Department.
Luce, a consulting engineer, was on the Davis health board when it asked the Davis County Commission to place fluoridation on the ballot. He says he was no “rabid supporter” of fluoridation, but thought voters should decide.
He also was a member of Utahns for Better Dental Health — as were other health board members. That group and its counterpart in Salt Lake County actively campaigned for fluoridation.
Luce says he attended only two meetings of the advocacy group, but backed away from involvement so as not to taint his health-board membership or his company: Hansen, Allen & Luce, a Midvale-based consulting engineering company.
Luce also served on a subcommittee of the health board that met with water superintendents and Weber Basin engineers to discuss the nuts and bolts of adding fluoride to the water.
“I thought I could add to the work and I thought the board should be aware of the issues. I thought I ought to be informed,” Luce said.
Luce left the board when his term expired in 2001.
Since then, his company has secured two of the largest contracts to design fluoridation systems in the county. Hansen, Allen & Luce designed the system for Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which supplies about half of Davis County’s water, and has been hired to design a system for Layton, the county’s most populous city.
Hansen, Allen & Luce also designed South Weber’s small fluoridation system, although its bid was higher than two others received by the city. Staffers at the city persuaded the council that their past experiences with Luce’s firm were worth paying $3,000 more, according to minutes of a South Weber City Council meeting.
The company also designed Salt Lake City’s and Granger-Hunter’s fluoridation systems.
Lewis Garrett, director of Davis County’s Health Department, says Luce followed board policy by disclosing that his company provides consulting engineering services for municipal water systems.
Further, Garrett is dubious of any claim that Luce attempted to benefit from his role on the health board. “I can’t believe for a minute his support was based on the notion he was going to make money off of this,” Garrett said.
Luce, who insists there was “absolutely no” conflict, argues that his support of fluoridation could have worked against his company. The cities and water districts did not want to be bothered with fluoridation, he says.
“I thought these guys were going to hate my guts for voting for fluoridation,” said Luce, a Layton resident. “It has been very ironic that we were even selected by these entities.
“Looking back at it, was there a conflict of interest? Legally, absolutely not,” he said. “Would I do anything different? I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
The public expenditures by the Health Department on fluoridation came to light in a recent court filing by Steve Rawlings, Davis County’s auditor-clerk.
Rawlings is a defendant in a lawsuit brought last year by David Irvine, an attorney for Utahns for Better Dental Health, to block placement of Hansen’s anti-fluoride initiative on last year’s ballot. Irvine succeeded in blocking the vote and is asking a 2nd District judge to make the county pay his legal fee.
Rawlings says more than $34,000 went into the fluoridation drive, but he differs with Health Department officials about what were legitimate expenses. Rawlings says there was nothing wrong with the health board spending $3,000 in 1999 for a public poll to assess voter interest in a fluoridation vote. Another $19,200 was spent on the voter information pamphlet that Rawlings produced as county clerk.
But he questions $12,000 in other spending, $7,000 of which was offset by a Centers for Disease Control grant that Salt Lake County shared with Davis County to promote fluoridation. By Rawlings’ reckoning, some $5,000 of Davis County taxpayer money was used.
The $12,000 included a $2,000 donation from the Health Department to Utahns for Better Dental Health in 1999; $1,200 for travel to a fluoridation symposium by former health-board chairwoman Beth Beck and interim Health Department director Richard Harvey; $4,000 for a health booth at the Davis County Fair; and $4,800 for advertising that portrayed fluoridation as low cost just days before the election.
The $2,000 donation to the fluoridation advocacy group came before a Utah Supreme Court ruling forbidding such donations and before the Health Department was told by the Davis County Attorney’s Office that it could not spend money to influence the fluoride ballot measure.
Whether the travel, fair booth and advertising were legitimate is open to debate.
Beck defends all the spending. She says the board was only fulfilling its mission to educate people about fluoride. “No public money was ever used to say, ‘Vote yes.’ Never, ever,” Beck said.
Hansen, the fluoride opponent, is incensed over Davis County’s expenditures on fluoride, particularly the $4,800 for newspaper ads just before the vote.
“We raised several thousand dollars to fight this issue only to find out they were using our own money to defeat us,” he said. “They shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to do it.”