Wilkesboro Council members fell short of their responsibilities as elected officials by not being more involved and by not involving the public in the decision to no longer fluoridate water at the town’s water treatment plant.
Fluoridation is becoming increasingly divisive in communities all over the nation and world, making the way the Wilkesboro Council addressed this issue even more concerning.
Monday night, Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland informed the council that fluoride hadn’t been added at the water treatment plant for several months due to a shortage and that it wouldn’t be added in the future.
And that was that, with no discussion and no way for citizens to know where individual council members stand on this contentious issue.
Noland made the announcement during a council work session instead of the more public regular meeting that immediately follows. Regular meetings are held in the town hall lobby, often with several citizens attending.
The council’s work sessions are also open to the public, but in a room not visible from the lobby and with much less space so typically only council members, town staff and a Wilkes Journal-Patriot reporter attend.
Local governments in North Carolina have full authority to decide whether to add fluoride to their water systems.
Although referendums were held on adding fluoride in several North Carolina communities before it was started a few decades ago, they aren’t required before it’s started or stopped.
Elected governing bodies also don’t have to vote on these decisions, but they often do.
For example, the elected boards of the Town of Sparta and Alleghany County both voted against the addition of fluoride to water purchased from the newly established Virginia-Carolina Water Authority in 2010.
The amount of fluoride added to water is an issue. In the summer of 2015, the City of Hickory reduced the level of fluoride in its water.
Wilkesboro citizens should be given a chance to present their views on fluoridation to the council members before a final decision is made.
Although they don’t vote in town elections or pay town taxes, customers of the Moravian Falls and West Wilkes water associations should also be given a chance to weigh in on this issue because Wilkesboro sells water to those associations.
Arguments for and against fluoridation can be found online, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called community water fluoridation one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century because of its role in preventing tooth decay.
The fact that fluoride is still added to water in the vast majority of the public water systems in North Carolina also says something.
The American Dental Association, American Association of Public Health Dentistry, American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Public Health Association and other health and science organizations all support fluoridation.
Noland told the council that children get fluoride in many ways now, in addition to public water supplies. Fluoride proponents say this isn’t always true, particularly for low-income children and kids in rural areas.
However, the primary objective of this editorial isn’t to argue for or against adding fluoride to water.
Instead of conveniently letting the town staff decide to cease fluoridation in Wilkesboro, the Wilkesboro mayor and four councilmen need to make themselves available to face the people on this important policy issue by holding a public hearing.
This should be followed by a council vote for or against fluoridation.
• September 16, 2016: Wilkesboro not adding fluoride