Confusion about signature date has activists scrambling for petition signatures

Philomath fluoride activists were jolted into an 11th-hour flurry of activity Wednesday morning after learning they had less time than they realized to meet a crucial deadline for their proposed ballot measure.

Members of Citizens for Healthy Teeth initially thought they had until Tuesday to turn in their petition signatures and other materials for a measure that, if passed, would return fluoride to Philomath's water supply. But through email correspondence with City Recorder Ruth Post, they found out that the 384 required signatures would have to be verified by county elections officials in time to be presented to the Philomath City Council on Monday.

Signature verification, Post said, can take up to 15 calendar days. And in order to get on the ballot for a March 13 special election, the verified measure would have to be presented to the City Council no less than 90 days before the election, according to Oregon statute.

"We've done what we're supposed to do," said David Grube, a Philomath doctor and a leader of Citizens for Healthy Teeth. "People keep getting in the way. It's interesting, I can't understand it, but we're doing our best and trying to take the high road on this."

Grube said Wednesday night that the group had more than the 384 signatures needed, but the news sent members scrambling to get the necessary paperwork in order. Grube said they plan to turn in all the petition materials this morning in hopes the signatures will be verified by Monday's 7 p.m. Philomath City Council meeting.

"It's been quite simple to get the signatures," Grube said. "The hard part has been getting the city and county to give us the correct information on how we're supposed to do this." Grube attributed the confusion to a miscommunication.

If the signatures aren't verified in time to present to the council on Monday, Citizens for Healthy Teeth will work on getting the measure on the ballot for the May 15 election, which is the presidential primary.

But Grube said it's important to put the matter to a vote as soon as possible. That's why the organization was pushing to get on the March special election ballot rather than waiting for the primary in May or the general election in November.

"People don't seem to understand this is a public health concern about children's teeth," he said. "If you decide you have something wrong with your health, you shouldn't wait until November to change."

If the petition qualifies, it will be the only measure on the March 13 ballot, which means Benton County will bill the city of Philomath between $6,000 and $8,000 for election costs, Post said.

Once the signatures are verified and the measure is filed, the Philomath City Council will have 30 days to either adopt or reject it, Post added. If councilors vote to adopt it, the election would be canceled. If they reject it, it will go on the ballot for the next election no sooner than 90 days after it was filed.

The council voted unanimously in May to remove fluoride from the public water supply after three decades of fluoridation. In an August guest editorial in the Gazette-Times, Mayor Ken Schaudt wrote that fluoridation through the water supply poses a potential health risk, creates a possible liability for the city and denies the population the freedom of choice.

Candice Ruud can be reached at 541-758-9542 or candice.ruud@gazettetimes.com.

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