PORT ANGELES — A majority of the Port Angeles City Council has backed the structure of an ad hoc committee that will look for alternatives to municipal water fluoridation
Meanwhile, the council also Tuesday appointed a three-member ethics board to consider a complaint against Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd that stemmed from her handling of public testimony on fluoride during a Feb. 2 council meeting.
Five of the six council members who were present Tuesday directed staff to coordinate the ad hoc fluoride committee under the direction of council members Brad Collins and Sissi Bruch.
Collins and Bruch had proposed the committee to “bridge the divide” that resulted from the council’s 4-3 December vote to continue fluoridation beyond May 18.
“This matter has become so divisive,” Mayor Patrick Downie said.
“I’d like us to find the better angels of our nature, however that may be. But we ought not to end this discussion on such a rancorous and divisive tone.”
In addition to Bruch and Collins, the committee will consist of two who oppose community water fluoridation, two who favor the practice, two neutral members and one representative of the city’s Utility Advisory Committee.
Marolee Smith filed the ethics complaint against Kidd two days after the deputy mayor abruptly ended a contentious council meeting that was rife with anti-fluoride sentiment.
Smith alleged in part that Kidd violated the ethics code by prohibiting political signs, limiting public comment, discrediting public officials, making verbal attacks and engaging “in harassment of each speaker in the public comment period,” according to her eight-part complaint.
Kidd disputed the validity of each of Smith’s charges in a Feb. 5 interview with the Peninsula Daily News.
The council Tuesday picked three representatives for the ethics committee from an eight-member pool.
Kidd did not participate in the selection process.
The five council members ranked their top three choices for candidates based on judicial experience, municipal experience and a citizen at-large representative.
Retired Clallam County Superior Court Judge Grant Meiner was named the judicial representative.
Peninsula College instructor and retired county probation officer Danetta Rutten was chosen as the municipal representative.
Prep basketball official and retired Port Angeles High School teacher, coach and athletic director Frank Prince Jr. was named the citizen-at-large.
Kidd recused herself from the council’s 5-0 vote to appoint the members of the ethics board.
City Councilman Lee Whetham was absent.
A crowd of more than 100 packed the council chambers for the 2½-hour meeting. Many held signs lamenting the council’s prior decision to continue fluoridation despite the opposition of a majority of respondents in a survey of city water customers.
“We have voted,” said Kidd, who opposed the continuation of the ad hoc committee. “I need to be getting information from the Clallam County Board of Health that they’re against fluoride, that the Surgeon General is against fluoride, [that] the Dental Association is against fluoride. I have to see some information from the authorities.”
“We are the authorities,” said one audience member from the back of the room.
“Honestly, we discussed it,” Kidd continued. “We voted on it, and I’m ready to move on with other issues.”
Two public comment periods were kept to 15 minutes each, and individual speakers were limited by a timer to three minutes.
Four speakers testified in favor of continued water fluoridation in the first public comment period, with three opposed.
Five spoke against fluoridation in the second public comment session, with two in favor of the practice.
Dr. Scott Kennedy, Olympic Medical Center chief medical officer, said the OMC board passed a resolution in September 2015 that endorsed community fluoridation for public health benefits.
The Clallam County Board of Health followed suit Tuesday, Kennedy added.
Dr. Chris Frank, county health officer, confirmed Wednesday that the health board voted 5-1 — with county Commissioner Mike Chapman opposed — to endorse community water fluoridation as part of a comprehensive effort to improve oral health.
Janet Kailin of Port Angeles urged the council to listen to constituents who oppose fluoridation.
“The issue of forced medication is tearing the city apart, not to mention the much larger issue of democratic processes,” Kailin said.
“On three major occasions, the people of Port Angeles have voted against fluoridation. End water fluoridation and regain the trust of the people.”
For balance and credibility, Kailin suggested that the ad hoc committee consist of professionals on both sides of the fluoride issue.
Bruch, who voted with Whetham and Michael Merideth to oppose continued fluoridation in December, said the goal of the ad hoc committee is to “bridge the divide that exists in the community related to the issue of fluoridation, and to look for viable alternatives that recognize the importance of oral health in the community.”
Collins, who joined Kidd, Downie and Dan Gase in supporting continued fluoridation, said the committee must reach consensus on its recommended alternatives.
“The other thing I would point out is that whatever alternative might be identified, we’d have to determine could it be paid for, and who would pay for it, and how much that would be.”
Chapman, a potential neutral committee participant, has said its mission is too political and city-related for him to get involved as a county official.
Frank, a potential pro-fluoride member, said Wednesday he would not serve on the committee because of time constraints.
Others who have been identified as potential participants on the ad hoc committee are Marc Jackson, Port Angeles School District superintendent; Betsy Wharton, former City Council member and Utility Advisory Committee member; Jake Oppelt, owner of Next Door Gastropub; Dr. Alan Peet, an oral surgeon and president of the Olympic Peninsula Dental Society; and Kailin, a retired Olympic National Park ranger.
“I believe that alternatives do need to be looked at, and if these folks are willing to step up to the plate and be a part of that, in my opinion, this should move forward,” Merideth said.
“The committee is made up of proponents of fluoride and opponents of fluoride, and I think that these folks can sit down together and have a civil conversation and come up with some different ideas.”
Gase commended Collins and Bruch for spearheading the effort but cautioned that the committee’s recommendation could lead the council “deeper into the quagmire.”
“I believe that you could find some alternatives that could work for the folks that are anti-fluoride, and I’m fine with listening to that,” Gase said.
“I’m just cautious about having it come back later on as another ‘I told you so.’ ”
Downie encouraged the committee to get started as soon as possible.
“At the end of this experience, we need to be more whole than we are right now,” Downie said.