Rous County Council Chairman Col Sullivan used his casting vote so Rous Water could clear the final hurdles to building four fluoride dosing plants.
At the meeting last week, Rous voted 4/4 (Crs Patrick Morrisey, Vanessa Ekins, Richard Staples, Keith Johnson against; Phil Silver, Stuart George, David Yarnall, Col Sullivan for) to approve the Review of Environmental Factors (REF) before Cr Sullivan was forced to break the deadlock.
“It’s always difficult to use a casting vote, it’s never easy, but I believe Council was treading a dangerous path as far as the legal direction that was being taken… One of the roles of the chairperson is to keep the Council on a course that is legal and within the rules of the Council,” he said. “I am aware that the issue of fluoride is politically sensitive and of significant interest to the community generally. Rous Water has been instructed by NSW Health to provide fluoridated water to the councils. Despite all the arguments for and against the proposition, the decision was simply about Council complying with that direction.”
Rous Water had been denied an extension by the NSW Health Department to get further information on the effects of releasing fluoridated water into the environment. They were also presented with legal advice that essentially said they were now obliged to get on with the process of fluoridating the water supply in accordance with the state government’s directions.
But Ilga Sleja from the Ballina Fluoridation Free Network has lodged a complaint with the NSW Minister for Local Government Barbara Perry about the conduct of Rous Water general manager Kyme Lavelle and other staff for “threatening, intimidating and bullying” Rous councillors.
The letter implies that councillors were given no choice but to approve the REF or risk personal legal action that could cost them their houses.
“Rous Water management used their legal advice as a persuasive baseball bat, fearfully intimidating councillors to comply and achieve the management’s desired conclusion. This has been an undemocratic process full of fear for favour,” Ms Sleja said in the letter.
Cr David Yarnall, who voted in favour of approving the REF despite being in the anti-fluoride camp, said he did feel pressured, but that the pressure was coming from NSW Health, not Rous Water.
“We were presented with legal advice and I certainly felt pressured by the Health Department…We had asked for an extension, which was refused… so I felt we were caught between a rock and a hard place. I would have preferred to have had more options, but there was very little room to move. I would have liked more time to explore the options in more detail,” Cr Yarnall said.
He said a comment he made about not being able to afford to take on personal legal costs had been taken out of context by Ms Sleja in her letter to the minister.
Rous Water general manager Kyme Lavelle said it would be inappropriate to comment while the matter was being considered by the minister.
Cr Sullivan said tenders had been put out and it was all “full steam ahead” for the dosing plants.
“Hopefully there will be a quick turn around to signing contracts and securing the necessary land… We are already overdue to have this done and the Health Department has threatened to fine the Council. Every day we don’t do something we are in trouble.”