Two separate parties have filed objections to the proposed ballot language of a petition initiative to overturn Philomath’s ban on fluoride.
The Philomath City Council approved removing fluoride from the city’s drinking water in May after three decades of fluoridation. But since then, a group known as the Citizens for Healthy Teeth are moving to place an initiative on next year’s ballot seeking to overturn the ban. The citizens group includes the medical professionals who were involved in getting fluoride added to Philomath’s water in the early 1980s.
Before the citizens group can start gathering signatures for the petition process, the proposed ballot measure title has to be finalized. According to court documents filed Monday in Benton County Circuit Court, Philomath resident Ryan Weeks is seeking a review of the ballot title in Benton County Circuit Court.
In a statement released Monday, Weeks said that the ballot title doesn’t disclose that if voters approve the proposed ballot measure, they would give the Oregon Health Authority more oversight in how the city of Philomath manages its water. Weeks, who opposes fluoridation of drinking water, also opposes that a state agency again would have oversight of Philomath’s water supply.
During the years that fluoride was added to Philomath’s drinking water, the Oregon Health Authority reviewed daily samples of the city’s water. On a monthly basis, the agency inspected equipment used to fluoridate the water and also set the rules and guidelines for how much fluoride could be put in the water.
“Voters deserve to the right to know exactly what this ballot measure would actually do,” Weeks said. “If proponents of this practice want us to turn over local control of our water to a state bureaucracy, then that should be very clear in the language that voters see on the ballot.”
John Barlow,a Philomath resident, filed the second challenge to the ballot Tuesday, along with a motion to consolidate it with Weeks’ challenge.
Barlow, who practices law in Corvallis, said that amendments made to the original proposed ballot title submitted by the Citizens for Healthy Teeth committee have resulted in the title not being compliant with state election statues.
“It’s unfair and not concise,” Barlow said Wednesday. “The changes removed the reason we are doing this – to promote dental health – and that this a public health issue.”
Barlow also took exception to changes made to the original proposed ballot title question: “Should the City of Philomath add fluoride to the city water supply to promote dental health?”
The question now reads “Shall the City of Philomath resume adding fluoride compounds to the potable water supply system?”
Barlow said that adding the term “compounds” after the word fluoride could conjure the word “acid” in voters’ minds, which he termed a scare tactic.
A judge will hear the challenges and decide whether the ballot title is confusing or misleading. No court date has yet been set. If the judge rules that the ballot title doesn’t need to be amended, it becomes final. Otherwise, the ballot title would have to be revised by the city attorney or by the ballot’s chief petitioner.
Once the ballot title is finalized, Citizens for Healthy Teeth committee members need to collect signatures of at least 15 percent of registered Philomath voters to put the issue on the ballot in March.
“I don’t know why they are trying to reinvent the wheel here,” Barlow said. “We simply want an up or down vote for the city’s citizens.”
A controversial chemical since it first was added to drinking water in 1945, fluoride fights tooth decay. But for decades, its opponents have maintained that it is a potentially dangerous substance and object to its addition to city drinking water supplies. Their reasons range from health concerns about over-fluoridation to general principles. Many just don’t like the idea of adding a substance to everyone’s drinking water supply when not everyone supports such an addition.