Last week, three members of the council signaled they had had enough. They walked out of their weekly meeting when activists started to speak during a time set aside for public comment.
"I am just tired of listening to that conversation about fluoride, and I don't have any time for it anymore," Councilman Arlan Hatloe said later. He called the activists "obnoxious."
Hatloe was the first to beat a path to the door at the July 3 meeting. He was followed by councilmen Shannon Affholter and Jeff Moore.
Affholter later declined to comment. Moore was out of the country and could not be reached.
Since two council members were absent, that left just two members remaining on the dais to listen: Council President Ron Gipson and Councilwoman Gigi Burke.
Five people spoke for a total of about 15 minutes. The activists claim, among other things, that fluoridation is linked to major health problems, including osteoporosis, kidney disease, thyroid problems, mental illness, lower intelligence in children and unsightly teeth.
A video of the council meeting shows attorney James Deal of Lynnwood coming to the podium. Deal has been leading local anti-fluoride activists and is a frequent presence at meetings.
As he began to speak, Hatloe left. Another activist, David John of Mercer Island, asked before he spoke, "Can I wait to speak until later when some of the council who walked out come back?"
Gipson responded: "This is your time to speak, sir."
The Everett City Council meets weekly, and meetings include a time when citizens may comment on any topic for a total of three minutes each.
"My feelings are not hurt by the City Council walking out," Deal said later. "I'm in this for the long haul. As far as I'm concerned, they are sleepwalking through this important issue."
Deal said his patience and persistence will win out in the end.
In an interview after the meeting, Hatloe said his beef is with the amount of time the council has spent dealing with a small group of people. And he feels he's hearing the same information and arguments over and over.
"This is still America, and I have the freedom of choice not to listen to the same talk month in and month out," Hatloe said.
In the past year, the council has spent hours listening to the activists at public meetings and in private. They have received dozens of phone calls, a stack of information from activists and numerous emails, including some from overseas.
The council held a special forum in June, inviting the activists as well as Dr. Gary Goldbaum, head of the Snohomish Health District, who shared information on what experts say about the dental-health benefits of public water fluoridation.
In public meetings, all the council members have said they do not plan to stop fluoridating Everett's water.
Yet the anti-fluoride activists keep coming back.
Councilman Paul Roberts was out of town on city business during the July 3 meeting. Listening to the public is part of the job, he said.
"I do think we as council members have an obligation to hear what people have to say to us, even if we don't agree or don't wish to hear it," he said.
The council has made what he called "an extraordinary effort" to look into fluoridated water. And members are not interested in changing their minds.
"I don't speak for the council, but this is decided policy," he said. "There is no interest in the part of the council to revisit this question."
Without a quorum of council members, the meeting was over, said attorney Tim Ford, the open-government ombudsman with the state Attorney General's Office. So the activists' comments last week might not be officially on record.
"Since there was not a quorum, the public comment isn't legally received by the council," Ford said.
City Attorney Jim Iles agreed that the meeting effectively ended when the council members walked out. He said that less than a quorum can still receive comments outside of a meeting. He said he believes Council President Gipson may comment on the issue at tonight's meeting.
After the public-comment period, councilmen Hatloe and Affholter returned, restoring the quorum. The council then entered an executive session.
At tonight's 6:30 meeting, the activists say, they'll be back.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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