Another vote on fluoride in Wahoo’s drinking water still rests in the hands of petitioners.
The Wahoo City Council took no action last Thursday on a request to forgo the petition process and have the government once again put the question of adding fluoride to the town’s voters.
The state legislature has mandated that cities with a population greater than 1,000 put fluoride into the municipal drinking water supply. The law says cities could opt out if a vote of the people said they did not want it. In 2008 such an election took place in Wahoo, but the outcome supported the mandate and fluoridation treatment is to begin by June of this year.
Several Wahoo residents have been attempting to gather the necessary signatures to call for a revote on the question.
According to Wahoo City Administrator Melissa Harrell, 402 certified signatures – 15 percent of Wahoo’s registered voters – would be needed to force the question onto a ballot. In order to place it on the May Primary Ballot, those signatures would need to be certified and the ballot question delivered to the county clerk’s office by March 1.
Petition organizers estimated they already have more than 340 signatures, but they did not know if there was enough time to get the remainder of them.
The request to the council was to place it on the ballot once again without a citizens’ petition.
The issue has proven to be an emotional one in the past, and last week’s meeting was certainly no exception. However, the stress came from not the issue itself.
Bob Laudenback had been gathering petition signatures and was first to address the council.
He told the council that the wording on the ballot question was confusing.
“A yes vote really meant no and no really meant yes,” he said.
Laudenback admitted that not all of the voters misread the question. But since the margin of victory was only about 100, he said even a few confused voters could matter.
“If 10 percent found it confusing, it might have made a difference in the results,” he stated.
Laudenback began to offer other points about why the council should send the issue back to the voters. However, he was unable to continue his presentation.
Laudenback unexpectedly collapsed on the council table. An ambulance was called, and he was transported to the Saunders Medical Center, where he died that same evening.
During a pause in the meeting for everyone to gather themselves, Mayor Jerry Johnson asked the other petition organizers if they wanted to table the issue until the next meeting.
Although visibly shaken, Vickie Nelson was able to continue the presentation. She said she would just as soon have a decision made instead of waiting another two weeks.
She said her main concern was being able to get enough signatures. She estimated that about 500 signatures would need to be gathered because some of them might be thrown out during certification.
According to Nelson, there have only been about five people willing to circulate petitions.
“They’ll sign it, but they don’t want to go around with it,” she said.
With Laudenback’s death and health concerns for several of the other petition circulators, that leaves only about two active circulators.
Nelson asked the council to put the question on the May ballot. She cited the City of Yutan as an example of a town that re-voted on fluoride without a petition.
After being asked for advice, City Attorney Loren Lindahl repeated what he had opined to the council last year.
He said state law allows two ways for something like this to be put on a ballot. First, the council can vote to put something to a vote of the people. Second, the people can ask for a vote through the petition process.
It was the city council that posed the fluoride question to the people in 2008.
“You have already done the first one and the people have spoken,” Lindahl said.
Councilman Gerry Tyler said if the citizens of Wahoo do not want fluoride in their water, the process is now in their hands. He said it is the city’s obligation to honor the 2008 election results.
“It boils down to the petition drive because the people have spoken and we have to fulfill that,” he said.
The council also discussed the pressing timeline before them. In order to comply with state law, the fluoride treatment must begin in about four months.
“We have a compliance issue,” Tyler added.
JEO Consulting Group Engineer Dave Henke said the fluoride system would need to be designed, approved by the state, and in place before the June 1 deadline.
That process, he recommended, needs to begin now. He said even holding a special election in March would not give the city enough time to do all of that should the voters reverse the 2008 election outcome.
The council took no action on another fluoride vote. Council members said they would take the necessary action should a petition drive be successful before the March 1 deadline.