State officials announced Wednesday that there was not enough evidence to prove that the City of Philomath violated election laws during the March 13 special election campaign.
The Philomath City Council voted in May to stop putting fluoride into the city’s drinking water, saying it had concerns about its safety.
Fluoride is a mineral added to toothpaste and other oral care products. Many municipalities — including Corvallis — add fluoride to the water to prevent tooth decay. But its critics contend that fluoridation poses health risks ranging from tooth-discoloration to bone cancer, and some cities, including Eugene and Portland, do not have fluoride added to the water.
A group called Citizens for Healthy Teeth — led by the Philomath doctors whose actions led to the city’s fluoridation in the 1980s in the first place — launched an initiative to overturn the ban, and 59.5 percent of Philomath’s voters sided with them. Fluoride will be returned to Philomath’s water in May.
However, the city’s actions regarding the newsletter remained unresolved until Wednesday.
The same day that the petition for the ballot measure was filed, city officials sent a pro-fluoride newsletter to citizens. Titled “Fluoride: The Untold Story,” the newsletter explained the city’s reasoning behind its decision to remove fluoride in May.
John Barlow, a volunteer with Citizens for Healthy Teeth, filed a complaint against the city in February, contending that the newsletter amounted to an attempt to sway voters in advance of the election.
Alana Cox, the compliance specialist with the State Elections Division, said that after a petition for a ballot measure is filed, public employees should not use work time to promote or oppose the petition. However, the close timing of the filing gave the city a break.
“Because the article was drafted before the petition was filed, we didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint,” Cox said.
However, Cox states in the disposition that the “timing is troubling, since many residents received the article just after the prospective petition was submitted.”
Had the state found in favor of Barlow, the city would have been charged $75 for violating election laws.
Barlow said he was not surprised by the state’s decision, but he noted that city officials had been disingenuous with their release of the newsletter.
“The city manager in particular came as close to the line as he could have,” Barlow said. “There is no question he was on notice way earlier that the initiative was in the works.”
Barlow said that his overall intention in filing the complaint was to hold public officials accountable.
“It was never about slapping the city on the wrist,” Barlow said. “It was about making sure our elected and appointed officials comply with the law.”
Following the Election’s Division’s announcement, City Manager Randy Kugler sent out a release stating that “This finding should not be a surprise to anyone ... This was a decision on the part of Citizens for Healthy Teeth to create a negative headline in order to question the integrity of the city during the election campaign.”
Kugler did not return phone messages Wednesday.
Barlow added that the outcome of the complaint was a moot point because the election already had taken place.
“The bottom line is, fluoride is going in the water next month. That’s what we’re focused on,” he said.