Fluoride Action Network

Portland: New emails reveal direct involvement by state agency in pro-fluoride campaign

Source: Clean Water Portland: Press Release | May 20th, 2013 | Contact: Kellie Barnes, 971-404-6146
Location: United States, Oregon

Clean Water Portland Calls for Investigation of Improper Collaboration

PORTLAND, May 20 – Newly uncovered emails from the Oregon Health Authority show direct collaboration between key OHA staff and Healthy Kids Healthy Portland to shape strategy and messages for the campaign to add fluoridation chemicals to Portland’s tap water. The emails, obtained by Clean Water Portland through the state Public Records Act, show a series of actions by OHA staff that appear to directly violate Oregon law prohibiting state employees from promoting ballot measures.

On Sunday, The Oregonian published emails showing that Upstream Public Health, a proponent of fluoridation, pressured OHA managers regarding the agency’s plans for release of the 2012 Smile Survey, which showed significant declines in kids’ cavity rates in Multnomah County and statewide, but was not released by the OHA until obtained by the media under Public Records Act requests. The emails released today by Clean Water Portland go further, directly contradicting OHA’s denials of improper collaboration and showing that agency staff used their state email accounts to provide information and other assistance to the pro-­fluoride campaign.

“Collaboration by a public agency with a political campaign is against the law,” said Kimberly Kaminski, chair of Clean Water Portland. “We call again, as we did after the first revelations, for a state DOJ investigation of the Oregon Health Authority and the immediate release today of the remaining agency records we have requested under the Public Records Act. There is no reason why OHA can’t release today the phone records we requested weeks ago that would show the extent of communications between OHA staff and those working on the fluoridation campaign.”

Excerpts of the relevant emails – sent from state accounts on state computers during working hours – show:

OHA’s Oral Health Unit Manager Shannon Mason and School Oral Health Programs Coordinator Laurie Johnson directly provided facts and talking points to Kurt Ferre, one of the volunteer leaders of Healthy Kids Healthy Portland, on how to respond to arguments of fluoridation opponents. Both Mason and Johnson were directly involved in preparing and overseeing the 2012 Smile Survey.

OHA’s Laurie Johnson, using her state email account during work hours, also advised a fluoridation supporter looking for pro-­fluoride lawn signs that she had three in her car and then offered to deliver them. Mason was also copied on emails with fluoridation proponents working for Upstream Public Health and the Health Kids Healthy Portland campaign crafting the pro-­fluoridation response to the City Club’s questions regarding the Portland fluoridation measure. Because OHA has yet to comply with Public Records Act requests for Mason’s and others’ phone records, the extent of phone communications between OHA staff and the fluoridation campaign can’t yet be determined.

Dr. Mel Kohn, OHA’s Public Health Director and State Health Officer, directed Laurie Johnson to have OHA’s website changed to add language promoting fluoridation the day after fluoridation opponents attended a February 13th Portland City Council meeting and pointed out that OHA’s website stated “almost 100% of cavities” could be prevented through alternatives to water fluoridation (dental sealants and school fluoride rinse). The original screenshot of the language on the OHA website is available at http://www.cleanwaterportland.org/betteralternatives , and the amended language promoting fluoridation can be seen in an email from Johnson to OHA’s webpage administrator under the subject of “Important changes to a webpage.” Dr. Kohn’s phone records would help identify whether he was contacted by anyone within the HKHP campaign about the website changes.

Dr. Ken Rosenberg, an OHA epidemiologist who was caught removing anti-­fluoridation lawn signs from in front of Clean Water Portland’s office, sent out an email on his OHA email account during work hours promoting a pro-­fluoridation talk by an Oregon Health Sciences University dentist that was heavily advertised by Healthy Kids Healthy Portland. Johnson responds to this email by telling Rosenberg she will “finish the case for fluoridation over the weekend and will have it to you first thing Monday morning.” The emails do not identify further details about what exactly Johnson was preparing for Dr. Rosenberg or its relation to the campaign.

Dr. Mel Kohn, OHA’s Public Health Director, asked the agency’s director, Bruce Goldberg, if it was acceptable to be listed as a supporter on Healthy Kids Healthy Portland’s website and co-­host a house party for the campaign. Kohn notes that he believed he was asked “because they think I will be a draw because of my position.” Goldberg responds that he himself is already listed as a supporter. While there is nothing wrong with state agency employees having positions on a city ballot measure, what is concerning is that this support coincides with the OHA’s apparent intent not to release the 2012 Smile Survey data until after the Portland fluoridation election.