I SUPPOSE it was generous of the Portland City Council to hold a lengthy public hearing less than a week before it was scheduled to vote on something that (sorry, inbox!) makes sense and is entirely overdue: the fluoridation of Portland's water supply.
But that hearing last Thursday, September 6—all six-plus hours of it—was an awful waste.
The three council members who favor fluoridation—Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish—had all announced their support long ago. And it was clear no one's mind was going to change, even after the parade of anti-fluoride advocates—some paranoid, others smart and well-intentioned—had their say.
Worse, the pro forma hearing (three votes, after all, constitutes a council majority) might actually have hurt the city's cause, because it managed to reinforce the one very legitimate gripe raised by fluoridation foes: that the public process behind fluoride has been lamentably bad.
For instance, before the hearing we'd already learned that city officials had devised an end-run around a likely 2014 anti-fluoride referendum—speeding up the fluoridation timetable so it happens before voters can step in and cancel it. Further, we also learned that many of the suburban customers who buy Portland's water had received scant notice that things were about to change.
And then came a lengthy, circus-like council meeting that had extra security, spat-out accusations of "white guilt," and city commissioners leaving for (and sometimes returning from) other prior commitments. Stirring up further resentment, the council invited something like a dozen pro-fluoride experts to speak—but declined the courtesy of allowing equal time for fluoride foes.
If opponents ever do raise the nearly 30,000 signatures they'll need to force a vote, that seeming subjugation of democratic expression will probably loom even larger for voters than any and all of the misinterpreted studies usually thrown around by anti-fluoride activists.
It's true that Adams, since declaring his support early, has attempted some atonement. Twice he's posted detailed, well-crafted explanations of his pro-fluoride stance. (The second post came after he publicly agreed to watch anti-fluoride documentary An Inconvenient Tooth before making anything official.)
But Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz deserve even more credit for their conduct. Out of deference to the public, both waited for the council's official vote (as of press time on Tuesday, September 11) to reveal their decisions.
It creates the impression, at least, that some of our leaders will listen before they leap. Even if what they're hearing amounts to a lot of noise.