May 21, 2005
Hood River's charter is seven pages long. It includes 10 chapters and 43 sections. Those 43 sections establish the most fundamental pillars of Hood River, such as its name, who in city government can fire whom and how many councilors comprise a city council.
It is the city's constitution, the citizens' most powerful municipal document - for one basic reason: no city councilor, mayor, city manager or city attorney can alter, amend or change anything on it without the consent of the citizens its authors had intended to protect. And any change, amendment or alteration to it requires a majority vote in an election.
No individual or group has accomplished an amendment to the charter since 1991, when the city's people opted for a city manager-administered government rather than a mayor-administered one - until May 17.
In this election, Measure 14-23 asked residents of Hood River if they wanted to amend the city charter to prohibit "the addition of industrial waste by-products to City water supply system."
The majority – 890 out of 1,570 – said yes, assuring a second charter change in 14 years by a margin of 210 votes.
"This election became a referendum on fluoride," said Brent Foster, co-author of Measure 14-23. "That's not how we meant it, but that's what it became … And what we heard loud and clear is the people don't want anything more added to their drinking water. Whether it's the toxins that come with fluoride like arsenic and lead or fluoride itself, people value Hood River's water the way it is and they want to keep it that way."
City manager Bob Francis said the city will now consult a municipal law expert, a "charter guru," who can help the city adopt the new law. But it could take some time.
"We're not going to do this on the 23rd of May, nor are we going to do it sometime in June," Francis said. "But we have a mandate by the people that says it's a charter change. And we're going to do it. We want to make sure we do it correctly. It hasn't changed since 1991, so we have to make sure we're doing it right."
Measure 14-23 will almost certainly become "Section 44" under the "Miscellaneous" chapter, the tenth and last chapter in the charter.
How does 14-23 affect the November ballot?:
When (and if) it does, it will give any citizen the right to sue the city, should its intended enforcers ever violate it.
That could become significantly sticky by November, when a neutral city ballot measure will ask Hood River citizens "should Hood River add sodium fluoride to the water supply?" The city council voted 4-1 at a Dec. 28 council meeting to put that question – Resolution 2004-22 – before the city residents in November. Then-Mayor Paul Cummings represented the sole dissenting vote.
If the people vote "yes" in November to add sodium fluoride to the water supply, Measure 14-23 will obligate city officials – by charter law – to meet the standards it sets forth. Francis expects to receive those standards in the form of a list sometime in the near future.
And that standard will be a difficult one to meet, says Foster.
"Bob (Francis) will have to answer two questions: a.) is the fluoride an industrial by-product? and b.) would that source cause the drinking water to exceed the E.P.A. maximum contaminant goal?" Foster said. "The goals for arsenic and lead are both zero. There is no safe level of arsenic or lead … I think people sent a strong message to the city council."
But former city councilor Dr. Charles Haynie believes the city can both add sodium fluoride to the city's water supply and uphold Measure 14-23.
"I think it's an easy argument that sodium fluoride is not an industrial waste by-product," Haynie said after the election.
Haynie said he had an industrial chemist test a sample of sodium fluoride. The purity, he said, exceeded those of medical grade fluoride.
"It's not medical grade even though it exceeds the standards of the medical grade," he said.
From now until November, Haynie, Dr. Kyle House and those who had opposed Measure 14-23 will first have to measure whatever substance they want to put into the water against a list of "industrial by-products" and levels for them which Measure 14-23 now bans.
At the same time, they will continue trying to convince Hood River residents that sodium fluoride isn't such a bad thing.
"I'm about fluoride," said Dr. Kyle House, an opponent of Measure 14-23. "Measure 14-23 is not about fluoride because it's not an industrial waste by-product."
And they believe the numbers in this election were not convincing.
"Fifty-eight percent is not such a high percentage given the prejudicial nature of the ballot," Haynie said of the election results. "If the vote was 70/30 we'd probably admit we couldn't win (in November)."
Hood River residents could have voted on both Measure 14-23 and Resolution 2004-22 in this May 17 election. According to minutes from the Dec. 28 city council meeting, however, Haynie had urged his former councilors to place Resolution 2004-22 on the November ballot because "more people vote" then and they "are trying to figure out what the pulse of the citizens is with regards to this …"
"Going forward with another measure on fluoride seems pretty crazy to me," Foster said. "It's more likely to make people frustrated who think they've already spoken on the issue."
A lot of noise but little turnout:
Measure 14-23 and the water fluoridation issue in Hood River had spurred two campaigns, scores of letters to the editor and hundreds of hand-painted signs.
The issue brought an international expert on the subject to Hood River for a weekend, scheduled, then canceled, the re-scheduled an open forum in the county commissioners' chambers.
Activists on both sides devoted hundreds of hours to canvassing, strategizing and researching.
And 1,570 residents voted on it - less than half of the city's registered voters and about a quarter of the city's total population.
"What's been disappointing to Brent and me both is the general populace seemed to be turned off of it," Dr. House said. "If that doesn't get you excited, what does? We're talking about ‘pollutants’ in your water. As fundamental as you get."
In a series of five random interviews of city residents who did not vote, the Hood River News found two who said they didn't vote on it because frankly, they didn't know which circle to fill in.
"Their signs were confusing," said Lewis Hukari, 56. "One said 'yes.' The other said 'no.' They both looked the same." Hukari said he usually votes. "But I blew it off. It just didn't matter to me. If they put fluoride in the water it was fine. If they did not put fluoride in, it was fine."
Two interviewees said in political activism in Hood River can, if you let it, overwhelm you.
"Every issue around here seems huge," said Mark Diederich. "There's always signs. For everything."
Jim Haun, 44, said he is generally very involved local politics, including the prospect of a casino in Hood River County. The Wal-Mart fight didn't seduce him. And neither did the fluoride battle.
"I'm into a lot of things," he said. "But that (fluoride) isn't a top priority. Personally I don't feel that strong about it. But if I was to lean one way or the other, I'd lean against it (fluoridating the water).”
Haun says he has an anti-fluoride friend, who is so zealous about it, that his own dentist (non-local) kicked him out of the clinic during an argument between the two. "He's always yakking about it," he said.
The last city resident, who didn't vote, was visibly ashamed of her civic lapse. "For me, it was a lack of organization," said Clare Tiss. "I didn't get my ballot in on time. And I vote every time."
But a larger turnout, says Foster, will only further deflate the water fluoridation cause.
"We wish more people had voted," Foster said. "We believe if more people had voted, we would have done even better."
Random interviews were conducted between 5 and 6 p.m. on May 18 at the Hood River County Library and Rosauer's.