Opponents of fluoridating Wichita’s drinking water will get a chance to speak their mind next week with Sedgwick County commissioners.
But so will people who support adding fluoride to the water.
Commissioners agreed to let both sides talk at their Oct. 17 meeting after Mark Gietzen, president of the Kansas Republican Assembly, fumed about a “Facts about Fluoride” information sheet that had been available on the county’s website, www.sedgwickcounty.org.
In a story in Tuesday’s Eagle, Gietzen called the flier “nothing more than an unethical, likely illegal, and blatantly political promotion of fluoridation, at public expense.”
On Tuesday, the county, at the commission’s direction, removed the fact sheet, replacing it with a link to information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about fluoride.
“I’m very distressed that we’ve gotten ourselves into this discussion in this way,” Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said at a meeting with staff Tuesday.
Wichitans will vote next month about whether to fluoridate the city’s water supply. Proponents and opponents have been vocal, with both sides disputing the other’s assertions about whether fluoride is safe.
Gietzen attended commissioners’ Tuesday meeting, which is open to the public, interjecting several times despite being told the meeting was not the appropriate time for the public to speak.
Commissioners meet weekly with staff but typically do not take public comment during the gatherings. Public comment is allowed at commission meetings, but people have to sign up nine days in advance.
That meant Gietzen and other fluoride foes wouldn’t have been able to speak until the commission’s Oct. 24 meeting. Commissioners agreed Tuesday to waive the rule so anyone could talk to them Oct. 17 about fluoridating Wichita’s water.
The deadline to sign up to speak is 5 p.m. Thursday. People may do so by calling the county manager’s office at 316-660-9393.
Chairman Tim Norton noted that fluoridation is a “public health issue, but it’s not a county issue.”
He noted that the city, not the county, controls the water supply.
But Commissioner Richard Ranzau said the county got involved by making the fact sheet available.
“If it’s not a county issue, we need to stay out of it, but we’re not staying out of it,” Ranzau said.
County health department director Claudia Blackburn said the county long has made information about fluoride available on its website.
“This isn’t a new thing for us,” she said.
Gietzen, who pulled a flattened tube of fluoridated toothpaste out of his pocket, noting it warned children not to eat it, challenged the information on the county’s website, telling commissioners it was inaccurate.
At some point during Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Jim Skelton told Gietzen he was “out of order.”
At another point, Commissioner Dave Unruh told Gietzen, when Gietzen chimed in from the audience, “Excuse me, I wasn’t speaking to you.”