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Fluoridation is the big loser in S.L. County tiff

SHARE Fluoridation is the big loser in S.L. County tiff

As expected, the Salt Lake County Commission Wednesday voted 2-1 not to put a water fluoridation measure on November's ballot.

Fluoridation, however, was not really the issue. Rather, it was the topic for a feud between commissioners Brent Overson and Mary Callaghan, both of whom voted against putting the measure on the ballot.Overson supports Callaghan's Republican challenger, Wendy Smith, in the June 23 primary election. He, the commission chairman, put the fluoridation issue on the commission's Wednesday agenda - before the primary - intending to force Callaghan's hand.

"Some disturbing things have come to my attention," Overson said.

He said Callaghan planned to publicly oppose putting fluoridation on the ballot until the Republican primary, win the nomi-na-tion by giving conservatives what they want (no fluoridation), and then reverse herself.

Earlier this year Callaghan indicated she supported putting fluoridation on the ballot. She said her change of mind was caused by getting more information on the issue rather than by political pressure.

Overson also said Callaghan's administrative assistant, Sam Klemm, told others that Callaghan was planning to reverse herself once her nomination was secured, either in April's Republican convention or in the primary.

"Whatever information he has is false," Klemm responded. "I categorically deny (Overson's accusations). It was very calculated by Brent - he did it deliberately to make it hot for Mary."

Callaghan herself responded to the whole episode philosophically.

"I'm used to it," she said.

The political gamesmanship has upset members of the Salt Lake City-County Board of Health, who unanimously voted in April to recommend putting fluoridation on the ballot. Overson's pre-emptive move took them by surprise, they never having made a formal presentation to the commission to argue their case.

"We have not been given adequate opportunity to discuss this with the commission," said board of health vice chairman Alan Seegrist. "We feel somewhat betrayed."

Overson countered that over two months have passed since the board of health's decision, and that board members could have approached the commission at any time with any presentation they wanted to make.

Ironically, Commissioner Randy Horiuchi, who supports fluoridation, disagreed with board of health members that the commission's vote should be put off.

The reason: He was pretty sure he was going to be outvoted, and he wanted to leave enough time for residents to organize an initiative that would force the issue. If fluoridation proponents can gather 28,000 signatures by July 5, the commission will have to put the initiative on the ballot.

There is, however, some doubt as to whether that applies to Salt Lake County due to legislation passed this year. According to commission attorney Gavin Anderson, it would probably take a court challenge to decide the issue definitively.

Callaghan likes the idea of fluoridation fans proving their mettle by having them make an effort to make it on the ballot.

"I'm looking for citizens who say, `This is important enough to me to work for it,' " she said. "So far I haven't seen that groundswell."