Cooper: Goodwill gone grumpy

Bummer. The Sequim School District bond failed again to reach 60 percent approval. Seems that more people came out to vote but most of them voted against it. So it’s done. Sequim schools will have no additional space, no additional toilets, no modernization of science labs and no security.

Bummer.

The Sequim School District bond failed again to reach 60 percent approval. Seems that more people came out to vote but most of them voted against it. So it’s done. Sequim schools will have no additional space, no additional toilets, no modernization of science labs and no security.

The minority of voters have spoken. The rest of us need to move on; too much banging your head against a wall is not good.

Enough goes on that our attention soon will move to drama occurring in another political arena. There is no shortage of political double binds that rise and fall on humans just being human in what they say and do. Think SARC. Think county commissioners and county treasurer.


The newest double bind

Think fluoride. In the interest of full disclosure, I wish you would. Besides having these public health career roots, I have firsthand knowledge of how expensive it is to fix the damage caused by no fluoride and being in a family that could not afford early intervention. The money I put into my teeth could fund one, if not two bathrooms, for Helen Haller Elementary School.

Still I know that there is strong opposition to fluoridating public water. That’s not what this is about. I am more interested in the political process that landed the PA City Council at odds with each other and in the crosshairs of a passionate group of fluoride opponents.

Due diligence on the council’s part went rogue when they launched an unscientific survey to gather public advice — it was termed advisory — on water users’ views on fluoride in public water.

Forty-three percent of the surveys were returned and reported results said over 50 percent of respondents opposed fluoridation. Apparently, opponents saw the results as a clear win and could point to several council members who said they would vote with the survey.

When the council by a 4-3 vote did not abide by the non-binding survey’s results and approved continuing fluoridation of public waters, the opponents went into battle mode against the “fluoride four,” the four council members who voted to keep fluoridation. The battle front was public comment time during council meetings. Lines formed to comment on fluoride whether or not on the agenda.

Apparently, it all got to be too much for the deputy mayor, who closed comments and gaveled down the February meeting after being called one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” I don’t know which one.

Characterizing council members as pestilence, war, famine and death for not abiding with a non-binding survey does seem a bit extreme.

Then, not to lose momentum, the fluoride opponents filed a complaint against the beleaguered deputy mayor claiming harassment and violation of their rights to speak. This on top of a petition to dismantle PA city government as we know it.


Sequim avoids fluoride

The whole episode goes a long way in explaining why the Sequim City Council agreed to abide by a community survey that rejected fluoridating Sequim’s water in 2003. The subject hasn’t been seriously brought up since. The question needs to be asked, “Is that a good thing or simply caving in the face of intimidation?”

The PA council and the fluoride opponents are stuck, a point well made by Terry Ward, publisher in the first editorial I’ve ever seen in the PDN, the area’s almost daily newspaper. He proposes unsticking the double bind by holding an official binding advisory vote on the issue using the procedures of the County Auditor’s Office.

A properly designed ballot and process would give all water users an opportunity to vote and eliminate the current survey’s problem that allowed landlords to have as many votes as rental buildings.

I would build on the publisher’s idea — BTW very smart on my part — by offering more than yes or no on the advisory ballot. The PA city staff came up with several alternatives, some of which recognized both the importance of fluoride and individual choice.


Grumpy electorate

A vote of approval would solve it for public health and dental professionals. A rejection would solve it for fluoride opponents. A compromise might appease both.

Sadly, in either case, the city council loses in a survey contaminated by power struggles so prevalent today in America. My guess is that more would be voted on than fluoridating public water.

Elected leaders are supposed to solve difficult problems and the issue of fluoride by itself is difficult without compounding it with general public anger directed at anything government.

Despite the tenor of the current campaign, many (I wish most) of us don’t think that being an elected official means tolerating verbal humiliation and name-calling in the name of freedom of speech.

There is a general sense that the people in this democracy have lost their voice. We better start thinking of better ways of bringing us all back in with an understanding that we are going to have differing views.

If not, we will not only be a nation, state, city, town divided, we will be splintered into many sharp-edged pieces.

And as we have seen, some of those sharp edges hurt.

 

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

 

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