Fluoride Action Network

Port Angeles City Council sends anti-fluoride initiatives to judge for ruling

Source: Peninsula Daily News | September 14th, 2006 | By Brian Gawley

PORT ANGELES — Two initiatives submitted to the city last week to stop fluoridation of city water will be sent to a Superior Court judge to determine if it would be appropriate to put them on the ballot for a vote.

City Attorney Bill Bloor said it could take up to six months for a decision on the request for declaratory judgment.

The city’s fluoridation program will continue while the legal judgment is sought.

Not on Nov. 7 ballot

At a Wednesday afternoon special meeting, the City Council voted 6-0 to seek the legal ruling and not put either of the two initiatives on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

Mayor Karen Rogers joined the meeting by telephone from Washington, D.C.

Councilwoman Betsy Wharton abstained from voting, saying later, “My vote is not a vote against fluoride. My vote is about process. I didn’t feel all my questions were answered.”

Ann Mathewson, treasurer of Protect Our Waters, a group that submitted one of the petitions, said a lot of people did a lot of work and a lot of citizens signed petitions “for nothing.”

“It appears to be dead in the water,” she said.

Two separate anti-fluoridation groups delivered signed petitions to the city on Friday.

Members of the ballot initiative committee Our Water — Our Choice! submitted the Medical Independence Act, which would prohibit medication of people through drinking water.

Members of the ballot initiative committee Protect Our Waters submitted the Water Additives Safety Act.

It would prohibit the introduction of anything into the city’s drinking water intended to act as a drug unless it is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Initiative powers limited

Bloor said initiative powers granted to cities are unique versus those granted to counties and the state.

The scope is limited, which is important, he said.

Even with the court’s tests as guides, it’s not always clear whether an initiative is or is not appropriate as a ballot measure, Bloor said.

But there are some serious legal issues in regard to both initiatives that deserve answers, he said.

The decision to own and operate a water system is legislative and thus subject to an initiative, Bloor said.

But once that decision is made, operating the system is administrative and therefore not subject to initiative, he said.

Bloor said he didn’t know the answers to the legal issues raised.

The operation of a water system is specifically vested in the City Council, so it’s probably not subject to initiative, Bloor said.

“You can’t administer by initiative,” he said.

“This is a significant issue and (the Medical Independence Act initiative) may be invalid,” Bloor said.

It also appears to transfer a property right in the water system to each person in the city, Bloor said.

The state constitution prohibits the city from gifting public property and that seems to be the initiative’s intent, he said.

Stopping fluoridation would impair the city’s contractual obligation to the Washington Dental Service Foundation, Bloor said.

If the council itself wanted to either give the water system to the city’s residents or impair its contract with the dental foundation, he would have to advise against it, Bloor said.

The city would have to pay a $433,000 penalty if it breaks the contract with the dental foundation plus compensation, he said.

“So it’s a substantive issue,” Bloor said.

Bloor said the Water Additives Act would require the chemical analysis of every shipment of chemicals intended for use in the city’s water system.

The same legal tests apply and there are some serious issues here, he said.

It would place a significant burden on operation of the city’s water system, Bloor said.

This is an administrative action, he said.

It also would impair the dental contract, Bloor said.

“None of these legal issues relate to fluoridation. It’s about state law and the constitution governing initiatives,” Bloor said.

“It’s in everyone’s best interests to discuss these legal issues affecting the initiatives because voting on them won’t heal them,” he said.

City Councilman Richard Headrick said these serious legal issues need to be addressed.

Putting the initiatives on the ballot before questions are answered would not be fair or appropriate, he said.

The crowd at Wednesday’s special meeting consisted of about 30 people, many wearing buttons stating, “Vote Yes! Initiative XYZ Clean and Safe Water.”