By LISA WHALEY
Jonesborough’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to reject its previously agreed upon plans to discontinue the use of fluoride in the town’s drinking water.
“Since this issue was brought before the board, I’ve struggled to have many of my questions about our water treatment process answered,” Aldermen Chuck Vest — who voted in February against fluoride’s use in town water — told the board at the Aug. 14 meeting.
“I’ve tried to keep an open mind,” he continued. “So recently a reputable study from the Mayo Clinic was released and I’ve had more conversations with professionals I respect and trust.”
Now, he said, with the board poised to approve the next step in a journey begun in February, Vest asked the board to reverse its course.
“I ask that we deny the authorization of the letter (to let customers know of the move to discontinue fluoride) and continue a treatment process we’ve known for most of our lives,” Vest said.
The motion was quickly seconded by Alderman David Sell, followed by a quick yes vote from both Terry Countermine and Jerome Fitzgerald.
Monday’s vote was a complete change of opinion for three of the town’s four aldermen, who voted in the Feb. 13 BMA meeting to no longer add fluoride to the town’s drinking water. Countermine was, at that time, the lone dissenting vote.
Since that time, however, and with a planned summer implementation of the “no fluoride” policy tentatively set for July, advocates on both sides of the aisle continued to pepper the board with what they considered key points.
Arguments revolved around issues of the importance of fluoride to prevent tooth decay verses its possible
dangers and the possible impact on lower income families in the region.
Local health professionals soon joined together with a goal of somehow reversing the February votes and Letters to the Editor poured into the Herald & Tribune from young and old.
Monday night, it seemed the flood of information had its impact.
“I’ve been wrestling with this for a long time, and I’ve talked to a lot of people,” Alderman Sell said before Monday night’s vote. “I’ve talked to people on the science part of it and the non-science part of it.
“It’s still probably going to be up for debate down the road. And its the toughest decision I’ve had to make.”
However, he said, “We haven’t seen any hard scientific evidence (of dangers) yet that may lead us into reversing (tonight’s decision)”
Vest said that in addition to new EPA and Mayo Clinic reports, it was the one-on-one discussions that really made the difference.
“I’ve had some really good constructive conversations with people I trust and respect,” Vest said. “Bob (Browning) did a good job in providing us information on both sides of the issue. And it was easy to find yourself going back and forth.”
Still, in the end, he said he felt a change of course was necessary, even if it wasn’t necessarily easy. “It’s hard no to get prideful, but sometimes prideful is not the best thing,” Vest said.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe said the Aug. 14 decision showed the strength of Jonesborough board and its aldermen.
“This is an issue we’ve talked about for over a year and a half,” Wolfe said. “I’m very proud of each and every member of this board. This is an issue that is debated the highest levels nationally.
“This is an issue with paid advocates on both sides making very, very strong claims.
“This is an issue that probably won’t be settled in our lifetime, realistically, yet our board has done an excellent job in being very fair, very deliberative, I think very open minded in this process … These folks weren’t afraid to look at this issue.”
Countermine, who had long supported continuing the fluoridation of Jonesborough water said he was pleasantly surprised and proud.
Some people think that changing your mind is bad,” Countermine said. “But if you learn something new, changing your mind can be a good thing.”