Juneau’s drinking water is fluoridated, but this could change if city officials decide to halt the operation of the controversial program.
“This is going to be huge. It is going to divide the community. It is one of those issues,” City Manager Rod Swope said Saturday during a four-hour retreat involving all members of the Juneau Assembly and a handful of staff.
The annual session is designed for the members to lay out the city’s goals for the coming year, as well as discuss more general issues that could arise in 2007.
Ending the fluoridation of the city’s water was one of those issues. Assembly members decided during the Saturday session that fluoridation was controversial enough to talk about during the next regular session, which will be held Monday. Mayor Bruce Botelho said the item did not need to be on the agenda for the meeting because legally, it is a matter that the city manager should decide. No ordinance is required for him to make that decision because it is considered an “operational decision.”
The members of the Assembly opted Saturday to talk about it in the more public forum of a regular Assembly meeting, however, because the issue has split the community in the past. Swope also said Saturday that he was not comfortable making a decision such as this without some direction from the elected officials.
“You all are the policy makers. I didn’t intend to dump this on you,” he said.
During tomorrow’s meeting, the Assembly could vote on a myriad of choices: it could set a date for a public hearing so residents can weigh in; it could give an “yeah” or “nay” to halting operations; or it could give Swope the OK make the decision himself. A memo circulated during the Saturday session recommended halting operations of the fluoridation program. The recommendation is based on the principle of “first, do no harm,” Mayor Botelho said, referring to the opinion quoted in the memo. The memo stated that fluoridation should be stopped until further studies of a similar kind are completed by the National Research Council.
The fluoridation issue arose in January 2004, when a public works employee decided to stop the program to determine if it was causing erosion of the city’s pipes. Previously unaware Juneau residents became informed of the program and urged the city to permanently discontinue it. A task force comprised of seven – later six – members was then appointed to study fluoridation, but came up divided on the issue in a final report released Aug. 7.
On Sept. 11, the city attorney advised that no ordinance was required to authorize the city manager to make decisions about the Juneau fluoridation program.