Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd reached her tipping point this week when a City Council meeting speaker compared four pro-fluoridation council members — including herself — to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Kidd, standing in for pneumonia-stricken Mayor Patrick Downie, abruptly adjourned Tuesday’s meeting during the second public comment session — it was the last item on the agenda — after repeatedly banging her gavel and asking for order.
But in an extraordinary turn, the gathering continued without her.
After the meeting was adjourned, Councilman Lee Whetham encouraged comments, taking charge of the session as he stood behind the dais with other anti-fluoridation council members Sissi Bruch and Michael Merideth.
The 30-minute session turned into an anti-fluoridation/anti-Kidd rally in council chambers packed with between 50 and 60 protesters.
Kidd had called for civility during the meeting while opponents hooted, hollered and clapped as about 20 speakers criticized four pro-fluoridation council members, including Downie, who participated by speakerphone from his home.
The final straw for Kidd came when Robert Flood of Port Angeles compared council members Downie, Brad Collins, Dan Gase and Kidd to the Four Horsemen — Conquest, War, Famine and Death — from the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
Kidd interrupted Flood before he completed the list of council members’ names.
‘Out of order’
“That is out of order,” she said. “Personal insults are inappropriate.
“This meeting is adjourned.
“This is uncivil; this is inappropriate.”
The meeting did not end when Kidd, Collins and Gase left the room.
Rather, anti-fluoridation council members Bruch, Merideth and Whetham — sporting red “No Fluoride” paper badges — stayed for 30 more minutes of public comment that was not recorded by the city because the meeting had officially ended.
Most of the city staff also stayed.
Port Angeles and Forks are the only cities on the North Olympic Peninsula that fluoridate water supplies.
The anti-fluoridation issue has morphed into a more political debate over the council rejecting an unscientific survey of city water customers that saw 57 percent of those who responded say fluoridation should end and 41 percent say it should continue.
“Fluoride has been talked to death,” fluoridation opponent and former City Council candidate Dan Bateham said after Kidd departed and Whetham encouraged speakers to come to the podium.
“We still have the ‘Fluoride Four,’?” Bateham added.
“They do not want to hear the voice of the people.”
He was critical of a notice posted inside the council chambers that warned participants to keep protest signs in the lobby and not bring them inside.
“Do not interrupt my choice of freedom of speech,” Bateham said.
“Ms. Kidd abused her power, and she needs to be accountable,” another speaker said.
Laura O’Neal stood out as a pro-fluoridation public comment speaker.
She thanked the City Council for considering the survey along with a panel discussion and a special three-hour public comment session Oct. 29 that saw fluoridation proponents outnumber opponents.
“You took the three-part process to heart,” O’Neal said.
“You thought about it and made a decision.”
Whetham said Wednesday he disagreed with Kidd ending the meeting early over Flood’s Four Horsemen analogy.
“It’s just part of our democracy,” Whetham said.
“I would draw the line at the wording with racism, obscene language, but I don’t believe those lines were crossed.”
But he objected to the ban on protest signs inside council chambers as an infringement of free speech and was trying to find out Wednesday who authorized it.
“I don’t know who supposedly would be the enforcer,” he said of the ban.
Kidd said Wednesday that historically, protest signs have been allowed only in the City Hall lobby, which is divided by a garage-door-type entryway.
During recent meetings, signs have been popping up inside the chambers.
The lobby is a more “appropriate place,” Kidd said.
“We were just trying to encourage an open, safe environment for discussion without threats or intimidation by anyone to anyone in our council chambers.”
She also stood by adjourning the meeting when she did.
“I had asked for civil discourse, and [Flood’s] comments were absolutely designed to be personally attacking council members, and it was inappropriate,” she said.
“People erupted in jeers and shouting and insults, and it was a loud commotion.
“I asked several times for people to be civil, and I wanted to continue the meeting in a civil manner, but the volume from the audience was just unacceptable.”
Unlike at recent meetings, public comments at the outset of the meeting, which began at 6 p.m., were cut off by Kidd at 6:30 p.m. so the council could proceed with its scheduled agenda.
Kidd called Whetham “out of order” after he reminded her public comment sessions had been extended in past meetings.
Downie agreed that the cutoff “is the way to do this.”
A second public comment session was held at the end of the meeting.
Fluoridation opponents have showed up en masse at City Council meetings since the end of last year for public comment sessions, blaming fluoridation for maladies including fluorosis, cancer, low IQ, brittle bones and thyroid problems.
The City Council voted 4-3 Dec. 15 to continue fluoridating city water for 10 years and reaffirmed that decision by the same 4-3 vote Jan. 19, when fluoridation foes outnumbered proponents.
Doctors and other health care professionals have defended fluoridation as an effective, safe public health measure that fights cavities, especially among children.
The council also rejected an unusual and broad-based recommendation by city department heads to end fluoridation and instead fund a $400,000 dental health care initiative; the option was opposed by both fluoridation proponents and opponents.
Staff said the option would avoid fluoridation opponents’ threats to change city government from a home-rule city to a second-class city without initiative and referenda powers — and which would remove all seven members from the existing council.
Petition to change
Petition gatherers need 467 signatures to get on the measure on the ballot.
“We’re at the halfway mark, if not better,” petition organizer Jess Grabel estimated Wednesday.
The council voted 6-1 Jan. 19, with Kidd dissenting, to form an ad hoc committee to examine fluoridation alternatives.
They directed staff to come back to a future meeting with more information, which did not occur Tuesday.
The city’s 10-year contract to fluoridate the municipal water supply — also accessed by more than 1,500 Clallam County Public Utility District customers outside the city limits — ends May 18.
City Manager Dan McKeen did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Tuesday’s approximately three-hour council session is expected to be available by Friday on YouTube by searching for “Clallam Public Eye.”