By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Some Sebastopol residents, including a former city councilman, are objecting to a city-sponsored newsletter that urged people to oppose Sonoma County’s consideration of a water fluoridation plan.
“Another embarrassment for Sebastopol,” said Larry Robinson, a former three-term councilman who called the newsletter’s article “totally inappropriate.”
“This does not represent city policy,” Robinson said, noting that the newsletter, distributed six times a year in city water bills, “appears to represent the voice of the city.”
Mayor Michael Kyes said he personally agreed with the article, but that the newsletter, “The Next Step” should not adopt “an advocacy position” until the council has done so first.
Asked about the ongoing practice under which no city official vets the newsletter’s content, Kyes said: “I think that probably will change.”
City Manager Larry McLaughlin said there is “no official city oversight” of the newsletter, which is “not intended to state city policy.”
Sebastopol pays $490 a year to cover the cost of paper and copying the newsletter, produced “rather independently” by the editor, McLaughlin said.
Volunteers stuff the newsletter into city water bills, which incur no added postal costs by carrying it, the manager said.
Sebastopol operates its own water system, which filters and chlorinates water, and would not be directly affected by the county’s proposal to fluoridate water delivered to 350,000 residents served by the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Kyes said there has been worry in the community about the prospect that water fluoridated by the county would get into Sebastopol’s system. The county and city water systems are geographically separate, and the county’s fluoridation report said that “no significant negative environmental impact of water fluoridation has been established.”
The council, Kyes said, may discuss the idea of sending a letter to county supervisors opposing fluoridation.
Public sentiment in Sebastopol is “strongly against” fluoridation, Kyes said.
Patricia Dines, a Graton freelance writer who has edited the newsletter since its inception in 2001, said complaints about the fluoridation article were “a tempest in a teapot.”
Dines, who donates her work on the newsletter, said it gets an approval rating of about 90 percent in annual surveys and is fulfilling its mission to “reduce the use of toxics in our community.”
The newsletter is “action-oriented,” often telling readers how they can avoid toxics, Dines said, asserting that recommending government action “to me is not advocacy.”
Complaints about the newsletter article likely come from fluoridation advocates who “refuse to allow the other side to be heard,” Dines said.
County supervisors, she said, aren’t getting the whole story from health officials who support fluoridation largely to reduce dental disease among children.
More than 200 million Americans are now receiving fluoridated water, a practice introduced in the nation nearly 70 years ago and supported by national and international health agencies.
In February, county supervisors authorized further studies of a fluoridation program that could cost up to $8.5 million to implement, plus annual upkeep of about $1 million.
Barbara Graves of Sebastopol, a former director of the county Department of Health Services Prevention and Planning Division, called the newsletter article “one-sided propaganda.”
“I would have hoped for a more balanced dialogue,” Graves said. “Communities have to think carefully and rationally about fluoridation.”
Robinson, who served on the council from 1998 to 2010, said that Dines has “done a wonderful job of educating people” and called the fluoridation article “an error in judgment.”
Dines said the article was “simply a statement of the facts.” She said that Dave Brennan, the former city manager who retired in 2009, told her he did not want to review the newsletter’s content.
In 2009, the council discussed but took no action on Robinson’s complaint that the newsletter was taking an “advocacy direction.”
Graves and Robinson said the city should make a public statement that the newsletter article does not reflect official policy.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.