We are to have another debate on the fluoride issue and I make no apologies for helping to make that happen because I don’t believe that we properly debated this issue last week. I certainly wasn’t prepared because earlier the Mayor had indicated to me that he supported the Status Quo and I was happy to go along with that.
The Mayor has released an email he has sent to certain members of the public in which he attempts to explain his position. Explaining is losing but never less the Mayor explains that Councillors took into account the non-binding referendum we held in 2013 amongst other things, but doesn’t really explain why he and 5 others Councillors then chose it ignore it.
The Mayors position in a nutshell, appears to be that it was more important to send a message to Central Government (and avoid responsibility) than it was to do something proven to help children’s oral health and comply with the wishes of the community.
It is this aspect of the decision that concerns me most. This is not the way this Council usually makes decisions. Normally we would consider the options and select one to be consulted on. We could have done this for the fluoride issue but instead we chose to proceed by way of referendum.
Referendum is not a cheap option and more importantly it is not a submission process. You can have one or the other but not both. Council has missed this point and ‘invited’ submissions from certain persons. Again this is not good process. If you are going to consider submissions as part of the decision process then submissions need to be open to everyone not just a selected few.
The public were not able to make a submission unless they were invited. That was obviously unfair and a mistake in my view.
Furthermore it was apparent that some Councillors were influenced by the submissions made on the day. This was evidenced by the questions asked and comments made around statistics that were produced at the last minute by submitters against fluoride. Remember they did this during a submission process that wasn’t open to everyone.
The way Council make decisions is well regulated by the Local Government Act and we have to be very careful as to the process we use. On the matter of process alone a judicial review of the decision of 28th January 2016 would succeed in my view.
On the moral side of the argument we are elected to make decisions on behalf of the community and most of the time we use our own philosophy and personal views, combined with information, advice and submissions, to make a decision. The exception to this is when we decide to call a referendum on a particular issue. Then we are handing back some of the decision making power to the people.
There is simply no point in having a referendum if you are going to ignore the result. As an example I am against fluoride being added to the water on philosophical grounds. I am an advocate of personal responsibility and believe that people should be responsible for their own heath needs and that of their children.
But this matter went to a referendum and the wishes of the people were clear. No matter what my personal view on this issue is, I am not arrogant enough to ignore the result. Imagine if the results of the flag referendum, were strongly in favor of retaining the old flag but the Government decided to change to the new one anyway!
As far as I can ascertain no Council to date has ever gone against the result of a public referendum on fluoride. Hamilton initially proceeded without one and horribly misread public opinion. When a referendum was finally held showing the level of support they agreed to put the fluoride back.
But we can’t even hide behind the excuse that we didn’t know what the public wanted, it’s just that some of us have chosen to ignore them. If you are saying that you know better than the people of Ohope and Whakatane who supported the continuation of Fluoride in their water supply, then good luck with that!
Russell Orr 5/2/16