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Voters in Nebraska, California consider fluoride at the polls

Burwell, Neb.—In Burwell, a central Nebraska town with a population of about 1,000, Mayor Chuck Cone and two city council members narrowly averted a recall attempt related to implementing fluoridation to comply with state law.

In spring 2008, the Nebraska unicameral legislature overrode Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto of a bill requiring statewide fluoridation. LB245 required cities with populations of more than 1,000 to add fluoride to the water supply but allowed communities to opt out of the requirement by 2010.

In August 2008, the Burwell City Council only received one suggestion about putting the measure on a ballot, said Mr. Cone.

"That was from me. I had filed to run for mayor but came forward as a citizen and as the director of the local health department," said Mr. Cone. "But the incumbent mayor and the city council did not place the issue on the ballot."

Mr. Cone said he had no objection to the plan, since he considered fluoridation a safe, effective and cost-effective way to help the community.

In November 2008, Mr. Cone ran for and was elected mayor.

On primary election day in May of this year, he said, a resident presented a petition to put the issue on the ballot.

"But it was too late. It was already election day," he said. A petitioner in turn sued Mr. Cone and asked for an injunction to stop the fluoridation process. Judge Karen Noakes ruled that Burwell must comply with the fluoridation law.

Mayor Cone and two city council members were then hit with a recall petition that said that they had "failed to allow the public to vote and decide democratically whether to prohibit the addition of fluoride to the drinking water of the city of Burwell and have failed to keep the public adequately informed on important issues affecting the safety, health and well-being of city residents."

By a 290-278 margin, the mayor avoided the recall, and both city council members also survived the vote.

"As public health director for a nine-county area—about 30,000 people—I am proud to say that we have a terrific dental health program in our schools," Mr. Cone said. "Kids who have parental permission get exams, fluoride varnish and a toothbrush and immediate referral to a dentist if they need it for free if they are covered by Kids Connection (a state Medicaid program) or for a $10 donation if they are not. It can be hard to have a good rural public health program, but we have one. My legacy is that I will be the mayor that fluoridated the water in Burwell. There's a state law and a court order and there’s nothing else we can do. Am I happy about it? Yes! I’d have it no other way. But now the town is divided, and I hope we can move forward. We have a bright future, and we have to focus on that."

Voters in the Northern California coastal town of Crescent City rejected a ballot measure 57 percent to 43 percent that would have removed the fluoride from the water of some 7,500 city residents and thousands of water customers in unincorporated areas.

Local dentists, physicians, community groups, city and school leaders and the California Dental Association took the lead to encourage citizens to vote no on Measure A in the city that has been fluoridated for some 40 years.

In Keizer, Ore., where fluoridated water has been flowing for nearly three decades, the city council opted Nov. 1 not to place a moratorium on a city water fluoridation system improvement project.

The 5-2 decision was reached after council members listened to nearly four hours of public comment from more than 30 individuals. The moratorium was discussed months earlier at a budget committee meeting as a way for the city to save money.

For more information on community water fluoridation, contact Jane McGinley, RDH, MBA, manager, Fluoridation and Preventive Health Activities, by calling toll-free, Ext. 2862 or e-mailing mcginleyj@ada.org or visit the ADA.org fluoride page at www.ada.org/fluoride.aspx for news, resources and policy statements.