“This is an issue that certainly has polarized the community,” said Jeff Longwell, Wichita City Councilman for District III.
And now it's up to Wichita City Council members to decide what happens next. Will they decide to fluoridate the water in the city or leave the decision up to Wichita voters? That's the choice the council now has after a petition from the group Wichitans for Healthy Teeth was certified.
Eleven thousand Wichitans signed the petition to fluoridate city water. The Sedgwick County Elections Office certified the petition. Now it's the City Council's move. They can pass the ordinance as it is written in the petition, essentially beginning the process to get water fluoridated immediately, or send it on to the voters and let them decide. The one thing the council can't do is drop the issue entirely.
“We don't have the opportunity to vote it up or down,” said Longwell.
Members of Wichitans for Healthy Teeth are happy with their success so far.
“Hop up and down, first. That's a very exciting prospect,” said Dr. Lucynda Raben.
Even their opponents, spearheaded by the group Fluoride Free Kansas, say this is a step in the right direction.
“I think most people really are always going to support a public vote over some backroom deal,” said Don Landis.
But both sides are already thinking about what comes next. Should the council pass the ordinance, Fluoride Free Kansas plans to petition to force a public vote its lawyers are already drafting the paperwork.
“We're in favor of democracy,” said Landis. “We're in favor of everybody having a chance to vote on it.”
Wichitans for healthy teeth would move on to how to make things work.
“At that point we engage the engineers in the water department to do the strategy and planning,” said Dr. Raben.
On the other hand, should the council opt to put the issue on the November ballot, things get a little tougher.
“We're going to start organizing,” said Landis.
“I think we're just going to take it a day at a time,” said Dr. Raben.
“If we don't allow them to share their voice, pro or con, then i think that we're going to continue to see this issue fester in our community,” said Longwell, “and that's not what I'm looking for.”
Public comment will be allowed on this issue at the meeting on Tuesday and both sides, supporters and opponents, have said they plan to be there. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at Wichita City Hall.