SHERIDAN — Members of Clean Water Sheridan, a group seeking to stop the addition of hydrofluorosilicic acid to Sheridan’s water supply, has decided at this time to halt plans to sue the city over the matter. Organizers have said they will continue the group’s grassroots effort to demonstrate public disapproval of water fluoridation to city officials.
Group member Erin Adams said that new information that has come to light caused the need to pause legal efforts, but she added that the group is no less earnest in its desire to persuade City Council to give the people of Sheridan a choice on whether or not they want fluoride in their water.
“We’re treading water right now,” Adams said. “I’m hoping the will of the people will prevail.”
City Utilities Division Manager Dan Roberts told The Sheridan Press earlier this month that crews working to install the needed equipment to add fluoride to the water at both the Sheridan and Big Goose Water Treatment plants were striving to maintain the mid-August deadline. At that time, Roberts said the equipment would be tested before the city decided when to begin the addition of fluoride, which will be announced to the public.
A history of controversy
In July, Clean Water Sheridan retained Cheyenne attorney Robert Moxley to file for declaratory judgement and an injunction, if necessary, to prevent the addition of fluoride to Sheridan’s water. The group was pursuing litigation under the premise that a vote in 1953 that enacted a ballot resolution to end water fluoridation can only be overturned by a new vote of the people.
Clean Water Sheridan further contended that City Council overstepped its bounds in 2010 by passing a resolution that negated the results of the vote in 1953 by directing staff to monitor fluoride levels in the water and to incorporate into its current and future budgets the equipment and supplies necessary to adjust fluoride amounts to medically optimal levels, decided by the city at this point to be 0.7 parts per million.
The 1953 vote was 2,782 to 907 in favor of stopping the addition of fluoride to the water, which began in 1950.
On Aug. 7, City Attorney Greg Von Krosigk sent a response to a July 21 letter from Moxley to the city of Sheridan, Mayor John Heath and city councilors stating the city’s position on Moxley’s contention that the 1953 vote of the people should be binding. Von Krosigk also addressed Clean Water Sheridan’s request that City Council place the topic of water fluoridation on the ballot for a vote.
In his letter, Von Krosigk noted that on May 8, 1950, Sheridan City Council — at that time a commission form of government — passed Ordinance No. 852, which approved the addition of fluoride to the water.
Adams said she was told that ordinance came on the heels of a 1949 vote by the people requesting, two to one, that fluoride be added to the water.
In November 1953, the council placed Resolution No. 2362 on the ballot asking for the public’s opinion for advisory purposes on whether or not it wanted continued fluoridation. Von Krosigk said the words “for advisory purposes” are the key caveat and reason the 1953 vote has no power over the current council.
Further, Von Krosigk said, the council did not repeal the ordinance that ordered water fluoridation and was not required to do so by the 1953 advisory vote.
“The City Council (then a commission form of government) made its own decision to discontinue the addition of fluoride to the municipal water system after the advisory opinion expressed in that 1953 municipal election,” Von Krosigk wrote in an email to The Sheridan Press regarding the matter. “The 1953 ballot was an advisory, non-binding opinion to the Council.”
Regarding the request to put the matter on the ballot for a vote, Von Krosigk said the current City Council does not have that authority.
The council has only the powers given to it by the state through the Wyoming Constitution and state statutes, known as enabling laws. Von Krosigk said the current council cannot put the fluoride issue on the ballot for the public to decide because the enabling laws require the council to make decisions for the general health, safety and welfare of the public.
“The enabling laws not only authorize, they obligate, the council with that broad power,” Von Krosigk said. “Council makes such decisions by adopting ordinances or resolutions in the public process. The Sheridan Council made the decision on fluoride in 2010 by the adoption of Resolution No 60-10.”
Essentially, the current council cannot reverse a decision made for the public good by a previous council by placing the matter before the people for a vote.
Von Krosigk said any challenges to the 2010 council decision will need to come “via judicial declaration or a petition that meets requirements of the law by the opponents if that’s their goal.”
Adams said that Clean Water Sheridan will continue to gather signatures on its petition asking the council to stop the addition of fluoride to the water. The group currently has more than 1,800 signatures, more than 70 of which were gathered at the most recent Third Thursday street festival.
The group plans to present its petition at a council meeting this fall. In order for City Council to consider the matter, it will need a motion and a second by two councilors to be placed on the table.
Adams also said the upcoming election will be a chance to vote in councilors who want to give Sheridan residents a choice in the matter of water fluoridation.
Council candidate Thayer Shafer has said he thinks that the use of fluoride should be a personal choice. Shafer will run against Councilman Robert Webster in the general election for a two-year seat on council. Webster said earlier this month that he voted for fluoridation because it seemed good for the city’s residents, especially children. Webster also said he’d like to see the matter of whether to add fluoride to the water be decided by a neutral third party in the courts if that is what people want.
Write-in candidate Darryl Szymanski, who has accepted the write-in bid for a four-year seat and will run against Councilmen Jesus Rios and Alex Lee and current Planning Commissioner Kelly Gooch, has spoken out openly against water fluoridation.
Rios recently released a statement about his stance on fluoride. He said he personally believes in its benefits, but thinks it should be a choice of the people.
“When I was appointed this past April, the City Council asked me if I would have supported a vote on adding fluoride to our water system. I said that had I been on the council in 2010 I would have pushed for a community wide vote on this issue,” Rios said.
Gooch, when in his campaign for a four-year council term, said he is not in support of water fluoridation, and that fluoride use should be a personal choice.
In 2010, Mayor Heath voted as a councilor against water fluoridation. He has since changed his mind, he said, after studying the matter and deciding fluoride would provide needed defense against tooth decay, especially for Sheridan’s children.