Asheville City Council

How much of an impact did the partisan-elections backlash have on Asheville’s City Council? Enough that when Council member Brownie Newman brought the idea of a citizens’ commission on local elections to the table during Council’s Feb. 12 meeting, he got no support from even his staunchest allies. Not even a proposal merely to hold a public hearing to discuss the matter managed to muster enough votes to pass.

One vote shy: Council member Brownie Newman was unsuccessful in his attempt to establish a citizen’s commission on local elections. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Newman envisions appointing seven to nine city residents to discuss possible changes to municipal elections, including campaign-finance reform, districting, runoff voting and specifying a method for determining who will fill Council seats vacated in between elections.

That last point, he said, is especially pertinent with two Council members now setting their sights on higher office. Carl Mumpower is seeking Heath Shuler‘s congressional seat, and Holly Jones is running for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. “We’ve sort of had to decide on a case-by-case basis how to deal with that,” noted Newman.

Two years ago, City Council appointed Bryan Freeborn—the fourth-highest vote-getter in the three-seat race—to complete Terry Bellamy‘s Council term after she was elected mayor. (Interestingly enough, if Jones wins a commission seat and City Council sticks with that approach, Freeborn—who lost his seat to Bill Russell in November by the slimmest of margins—could be back. Freeborn has said he would be willing to serve out Jones’ term but would not seek a further term.)

Apparently, however, last year’s 4-3 Council vote to switch to partisan elections—which sparked significant public outcry and was roundly reversed in a November referendum—is still fresh on some Council members’ minds.

“I’m hesitant to get into this conversation, because we just went through a referendum,” said Robin Cape. “The perception will be that we didn’t get what we want, and now we’re doing this.” Cape also wondered whether Newman had heard many requests from the public to retool the city’s electoral system.

For his part, Newman said he’d intentionally left the partisan/nonpartisan question out of this proposal, explaining that he wanted to try to deal with some recurring issues before they popped up again—which typically happens around Election Day. “When they come up, it’s very intense,” he observed.

Newman also argued that as Asheville grows, it may be time to consider moving to district representation rather than the current at-large elections. “To me, Asheville seems like we’re sort of that size of city where it’s a fair question,” he said. The commission, he noted, would make its recommendations to Council at the end of the year—allowing sufficient time for action before the 2009 City Council and mayoral races.

“I think we are getting ready to open a can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened,” said Vice Mayor Jan Davis. He also voiced disappointment over Council’s handling of the recommendations of another appointed group of city residents: the Downtown Social Issues Task Force. “We accepted their report, then didn’t act on it,” said Davis.

A few in the audience weighed in on the touchy issue as well.

“I’d like to commend Council member Newman for putting this on the agenda,” said Jake Quinn, adding that he hopes it comes back around. “Please understand that looking at partisan versus nonpartisan elections is as important as anything,” said Quinn.

Green Party activist Paul Van Heden encouraged Council to embrace the idea, saying that when it comes to election reform, “The conversation has to start somewhere.”

Others, however, warned City Council to stick to referendums if there’s to be any tinkering with elections.

“This might well be a freshly lit match that you might do well to hold carefully,” cautioned David Black. “There is always the option of putting it on a ballot—and that is the largest commission you can get.”

Cape proposed holding a public hearing to solicit community input on Newman’s idea, but only Jones joined the two of them in supporting the motion, leaving it one vote shy of passage.

Something in the water

Speaking of referendums, it was another such vote, back in 1965, that originally cleared the way for introducing fluoride into Asheville’s water supply. Two years later, city residents reaffirmed that decision. And though many health experts cite fluoridation as a major factor in preventing tooth decay, the issue has a long history of controversy locally.

It’s the water

by Hal L. Millard

Since widespread fluoridation of public drinking-water systems began in earnest in the mid-20th century, many people have objected to putting what’s essentially a toxin and hazardous waste into our water supply in the name of dental health.

For fluoridation: Former Council member and dentist Dr. Joe Dunn says reams of scientific data back up claims that fluoridation is safe and effective in the proper amounts. Photo By Jonathan Welch

At the same time, fluoridation opponents have often been lampooned as kooks who base their beliefs on crackpot science and conspiracy theories. The classic 1964 Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove didn’t help that image with its crazy antagonist, U.S. Force Air Gen. Jack D. Ripper, calling fluoridation a “commie” plot and subsequently setting the stage for global nuclear annihilation—all because he believes a bout of sexual impotence stemmed from drinking a glass of fluoridated water.

But a growing body of mainstream science appears to support the idea that fluoride is indeed harmful, especially because it has now become so prevalent. Besides infusing toothpaste and drinking water, it turns up in foods prepared with that water. Humans are also dosed with fluoride when they bathe, notes Asheville physician James Biddle, who spoke during a Feb. 12 public hearing on the issue.

Although there’s ample evidence that fluoride-based toothpaste fights tooth decay, Biddle maintains that there’s no need to add the chemical to drinking water.

The issue, he says, is as much political as scientific—charging that studies shining a negative light on fluoridation have routinely been suppressed or ignored. For example, there was the 2005 controversy involving Harvard University dentistry professor Chester Douglass, whose report to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences declined to cite a 2001 study he’d supervised, which found an increased risk of osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in pre-adolescent boys drinking fluoridated water.

Over the past decade, peer-reviewed, published studies by respected mainstream scientists and researchers at universities such as Harvard and Dartmouth have found that fluoride overexposure contributes to thyroid disorders, bone decay and memory loss, among other ailments. And Biddle, an expert in chelation therapy to remove toxic heavy metals from the body, says it’s an established fact in the medical community that fluoride overexposure can multiply the dangerous effects of lead by a factor of 10.

Meanwhile, at least one nearby town has already made the switch. Last year, Brevard reversed a 27-year practice when it stopped fluoridating its water.

“I researched this and found there was a plethora of information and studies about the pros and cons of water fluoridation,” Brevard City Manager Joe Albright told the Hendersonville Times-News last July. “After reviewing the data, I think Council felt there was enough uncertainty as it relates to the possible detrimental effects, and that’s why they unanimously made the decision to remove fluoride from the city’s water.”

The move, which will save Brevard $5,000 annually, is about more than the money, Brevard City Council member Mack McKeller told the newspaper. “It’s a medicine, and unless there is a 100 percent conclusive directive from a government agency to put it in the water, I think everybody needs to have a choice if they want to consume it,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re paying money to administer medicine to people without their permission, and I’m very uncomfortable in that role. The science we were presented on the issue cut both ways, and if it’s a jump ball, I say, ‘Don’t do it,’ because we already have what I consider some of the cleanest drinking water in America.”

Biddle, meanwhile, says: “I personally don’t think the fluoride issue [in Asheville] is going to move anytime soon. I think it’s going to take us years—probably five, 10, 15 years in Asheville—to change this. But it’s a start.”

 

A 1956 City Council decision to fluoridate the water was challenged by a Buncombe County referendum (which overwhelmingly rejected the idea) and a lawsuit that reached the state Supreme Court. Ruling that a countywide referendum cannot reverse a municipal decision, the court threw the issue back to the city of Asheville, which later held the two referendums.

Now, however, some people believe it’s time to stop fluoridating the water supply, and their plea to City Council resulted in an unexpected, hourlong public hearing in which many Asheville dentists and pediatricians weighed in on the idea, with the vast majority opposing such a change. (See sidebar, “It’s the Water.”)

Water Resources Director David Hanks explained that the city adds fluoride in the form of hydrofluorosilic acid, at a rate of 0.9 to 1.1 parts per million—well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 4 parts per million. A byproduct of mining, said Hanks, hydrofluorosilic acid is monitored at the city’s two water-treatment facilities.

But Dr. John Wilson, a physician specializing in environmental medicine, challenged the safety of the city’s fluoride source, saying the material contains trace elements of dangerous chemicals, including arsenic. He also said that fluoridation has a dubious record of effectiveness.

“As keepers of the well,” he told Council members, “You are charged to ensure that the water supply [is safe].” Wilson called on City Council to look further into the contents of the hydrofluorosilic acid it uses, and to consider putting the matter up for yet another referendum.

But a bevy of pediatricians and dentists argued against Wilson’s claims. Fluoridation, asserted dentist Bill Chambers, has been studied more than any other public-health measure, and it has a record of decreasing childhood tooth decay—particularly in lower-income families.

“Fortifying water is no different than when we add vitamin D to milk or iodine to table salt,” he said. “If there ever were changes needed, dentists would be the first before you to recommend it.”

Cape, however, saw the issue as one of personal choice. Noting that it’s been 41 years since city residents have been consulted, she called for a referendum. “This is something that we are putting in people’s bodies,” she noted, adding, “I am uncomfortable making that choice.” But her motion found no second.

Nonetheless, Council went ahead with the public hearing. Dr. James Biddle of Asheville Integrative Medicine compared fluoride in water to mercury in fillings. And dentist Matthew Young said it’s akin to drinking sunblock to prevent a sunburn.

But they were drastically outnumbered. One after another, others came to the lectern to dispute those claims, pleading with Council members to trust the numerous studies that have been done over the years.

“For people to claim that this has not been studied and analyzed is a little bit less than factual,” said pediatric dentist Dennis Campbell. Quoting Euripides, Campbell observed, “Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.”

That sentiment was backed up by other local experts, including the head of Mission Children’s Hospital, the executive director of the nonprofit Children First and the president of the Buncombe County Dental Society.

Eventually, a motion by Newman to move on to the next agenda item was approved 6-1, with Cape opposed.

Thinking inside the box

On a 5-2 vote with Mumpower and Russell opposed, City Council changed the rules governing the maximum size of big-box stores. Previously, single-tenant retail stores zoned Highway Business could be no more than 75,000 square feet. But by adding a small second tenant, such as a fast-food restaurant, they could expand to as much as 200,000 square feet. The current amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance, however, stipulates that the building’s principal tenant cannot occupy more than 75 percent of the space. That means that retailers aiming for the maximum size would need a much more substantial second tenant, acting Planning and Development Director Shannon Tuch explained.

Council also raised the single-tenant building cap from 75,000 to 100,000 square feet to make it consistent with other zoning designations for business districts, she said.

Laying down the law

Mumpower put his colleagues on notice that he will oppose accepting any kind of state or federal funding for Asheville until he sees improvement in the state’s criminal-justice system. “From this point forward, I’m going to take a pretty strong position on this,” he told his fellow Council members. “Until they get the court system fixed, I am not interested in them funding our greenways; I’m not interested in them funding our butterfly exhibits.”

The declaration came during consideration of the consent agenda, which included two grants from the state Department of Transportation for greenway projects. Mumpower had those items removed for separate discussion, but both passed anyway on 6-1 votes.

Mumpower also declined to support a UDO amendment requiring some new buildings to include wiring enabling police, fire and other emergency-service radios to function in architectural dead spots.

The initiative, Tuch explained, is largely a response to problems experienced during the 9/11 attacks, when emergency responders lacked adequate “in-building coverage.”

A review of some of Asheville’s buildings, she said, has revealed the same situation, and the amendment would require taller buildings to install wiring that could be used to boost interior radio transmissions. Tuch said the developer would have to pay for the wiring, which should amount to less than 1 percent of construction costs.

But Mumpower objected, saying the move transfers the responsibility for public safety from the city to the builder. This measure was also approved 6-1.

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16 thoughts on “Asheville City Council

  1. nyscof

    In a statement first released August 9, 2007, over 1,450 professionals urge Congress to stop water fluoridation until Congressional hearings are conducted. They cite new scientific evidence that fluoridation, long promoted to fight tooth decay, is ineffective and has serious health risks. (http://www.fluorideaction.org/statement.august.2007.html)

    Signers include a Nobel Prize winner, three members of the prestigious 2006 National Research Council (NRC) panel that reported on fluoride’s toxicology, two officers in the Union representing professionals at EPA headquarters, the President of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment, and hundreds of medical, dental, academic, scientific and environmental professionals, worldwide.

    Signer Dr. Arvid Carlsson, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Medicine, says, “Fluoridation is against all principles of modern pharmacology. It’s really obsolete.”

    An Online Action Petition to Congress in support of the Professionals’ Statement is available on FAN’s web site, http://www.fluorideaction.org/congress .

    “The NRC report dramatically changed scientific understanding of fluoride’s health risks,” says Paul Connett, PhD, Executive Director, Fluoride Action Network. “Government officials who continue to promote fluoridation must testify under oath as to why they are ignoring the powerful evidence of harm in the NRC report,” he added.

    An Assistant NY State Attorney General calls the report “the most up-to-date expert authority on the health effects of fluoride exposure.”

    The Professionals’ Statement also references:

    – The new American Dental Association policy recommending infant formula NOT be prepared with fluoridated water.
    – The CDC’s concession that the predominant benefit of fluoride is topical not systemic.
    – CDC data showing that dental fluorosis, caused by fluoride over-exposure, now impacts one third of American children.
    – Major research indicating little difference in decay rates between fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities.
    – A Harvard study indicating a possible link between fluoridation and bone cancer.
    – The silicofluoride chemicals used for fluoridation are contaminated industrial waste and have never been FDA- approved for human ingestion.

    The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a DC watchdog, revealed that a Harvard professor concealed the fluoridation/bone cancer connection for three years. EWG President Ken Cook states, “It is time for the US to recognize that fluoridation has serious risks that far outweigh any minor benefits, and unlike many other environmental issues, it’s as easy to end as turning off a valve at the water plant.”

    Further, researchers reporting in the Oct 6 2007 British Medical Journal indicate that fluoridation, touted as a safe cavity preventive, never was proven safe or effective and may be unethical. (1)

    Partially, as a result of the professionals’ statement, at least one city, Cobleskill NY, stopped 54 years of water fluoridation. See: http://www.fluoridealert.org/news/2998.html

    Many communities rejected or stopped fluoridation over the years. See: http://www.fluoridealert.org/communities.htm

    On October 2, Juneau Alaska voters rejected fluoridation despite the American Dental Association’s $150,000 political campaign to return fluoride into the water supply after the legislative body voted it out.

    SOURCE: Fluoride Action Network http://www.FluorideAction.Net

    References:

    (1) “Adding fluoride to water supplies,” British Medical Journal, KK Cheng, Iain Chalmers, Trevor A. Sheldon, October 6, 2007

  2. Billy P Patton

    Brownie is a leftwing carpetbagger. Don’t know how he got elected this time. But I’m going to see he doesn’t next time. Asheville does just fine without newcomers trying to change us into some socialist town.

    Save your Dixie cups. The South’s rising again!

  3. Gordon Smith

    Yeah,

    He “carpetbagged” all the way from Pickens County.

    “Brownie Newman grew up on Foxwood Farm, a working farm in Pickens County, South Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He moved to Asheville in 1991 to attend Warren Wilson College, where he graduated with a BA in Political Science and History.”

    17 years of living here, and you’ll throw a “carpetbagger” charge. That’s ridiculously nativist. He’s hardly a newcomer, and he’s a Democrat. Now that the word “liberal” has lost its shock value, right wingers love throwing the word “socialist” around. It’s the height of ignorance.

  4. Sunshine

    No mention of Cecil Bothwell’s proposal to have a Sunshine Law here? Robin Cape eschewed it pretty handily. Or was this in a different meeting? Where would we find it reported?

  5. John Warren

    I love it when these idiots claim that anyone with a good idea or a new idea is a yankee carpetbagger.

  6. R Bernier

    “Now that the word “liberal” has lost its shock value, right wingers love throwing the word “socialist” around. It’s the height of ignorance”.

    Now we have the progressives, just look at what the Fab4 did.

    Liberal is not Liberal enough for the progressives, the progressives dont even like or agree that much with the “Old Guard” from their very own party.

    Holly Jones will have a very hard time winning precents in the County, however she will do well in Asheville of like minded thinking.

  7. Chris Pelly

    I was disappointed there was not more support on council for looking at local election reforms, particularly the question of district elections. A simple look at recent council representation patterns reveals certains areas of Asheville have been very well represented and others hardly at all. If you look at zip code representation since 1997 it breaks down as follows:

    28804 — 15 seats on city council since 1997
    28801 — 13 seats on city council since 1997
    28806 — 9 seats on city council since 1997
    28803 — 4 seats on city council since 1997
    28805 — 1 seat on city council since 1997

    This pattern demonstrates the need for serious consideration of district elections. As things stand now, each council member is expected to serve all constituents equally. But is it realistic to expect each to be an expect on every Asheville neighborhood in the way they are about their own? District-based elections give voters the chance to elect candidates knowledgeable about their own community and its unique needs. It is time to debate bringing this type balance to city council.

    Chris Pelly

  8. John Warren

    I think that the “Fab4″ as they are referred to were the best political force that Asheville has ever seen. They had real vision, effective policy implementation, and utilized sound data and best practices. Like us all they made the mistake of following Newman’s lead on the partisan election issue. Rumor has it that Freeborn was very reluctant to vote in favor of this issue. Had he gone the other way on that vote we would have him on council instead of Newman or Russell.

  9. Nam Vet

    John, the Fab Four was a disaster. And that is why their cartel was broken up in the last election. Along with their handlers at moveon.org, they tried to make elections partisan. The citizens saw through power grab and nixed it. And Bryan Freeborn was defeated by a republican in the aftermath.

    Brownie Newman is trying to incrementally get partisan elections back in because he thinks it will make his political “career” a lock. He thinks he will get national liberal dollars this way. Now he talks about making districts and having a citizen committee? I do hope he continues in this vein because it will be his undoing next election. Then he will have to go to work for a living along with his buddy Bryan.

  10. Becky

    So is Joe Dunn saying that the Nobel Prize winner mentioned above is using “junk science”? Has he even read any of the studies that show a chemical byproduct from mining in our water might be bad for us? Dr. Dunn — have you read any of the research you call “junk science”?

  11. nyscof

    “Second Thoughts about Fluoride,” reports Scientific American

    New York – January 2, 2008 — “Some recent studies suggest that over-consumption of fluoride can raise the risks of disorders affecting teeth, bones, the brain and the thyroid gland,” reports Scientific American editors (January 2008). “Scientific attitudes toward fluoridation may be starting to shift,” writes author Dan Fagin.

    “Fluoride, the most consumed drug in the USA, is deliberately added to 2/3 of public water supplies theoretically to reduce tooth decay, but with no scientifically-valid evidence proving safety or effectiveness,” says lawyer Paul Beeber, President, New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation.

    Fagin, award-wining environmental reporter and Director of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, writes, “There is no universally accepted optimal level for daily intake of fluoride.” Some researchers even wonder whether the 1 mg/L added into drinking water is too much, reports Fagin.

    After 3 years of scrutinizing hundreds of studies, a National Research Council (NRC) committee “concluded that fluoride can subtly alter endocrine function, especially in the thyroid – the gland that produces hormones regulating growth and metabolism,” reports Fagin.

    Fagin quotes John Doull, professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, who chaired the NRC committee thusly, “The thyroid changes do worry me.”

    Fluoride in foods, beverages, medicines and dental products can result in fluoride over-consumption, visible in young children as dental fluorosis – white spotted, yellow, brown and/or pitted teeth. We can’t normally see fluoride’s effects to the rest of the body.

    Reports Fagin, “a series of epidemiological studies in China have associated high fluoride exposures with lower IQ.”

    “(E)pidemiological studies and tests on lab animals suggest that high fluoride exposure increases the risk of bone fracture, especially in vulnerable populations such as the elderly and diabetics,” writes Fagin.

    Fagin interviewed Steven Levy, director of the Iowa Fluoride Study which tracked about 700 Iowa children for sixteen years. Nine-year-old “Iowa children who lived in communities where the water was fluoridated were 50 percent more likely to have mild fluorosis… than [nine-year-old] children living in nonfluoridated areas of the state,” writes Fagin. Levy will study fluoride’s effects on their bones.

    Over 1,450 professionals urge Congress to cease water fluoridation and conduct Congressional hearings because scientific evidence indicates fluoridation is ineffective and has serious health risks. Support them; write your representative here:

    http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2477/t/2782/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=21960

    (or http://www.FluorideAction.Net/congress )

    “(G)enetic, environmental and even cultural factors appear to leave some people much more susceptible to the effects of fluoride,” writes Fagin

    “What the [NRC] committee found is that we’ve gone with the status quo regarding fluoride … for too long… and now we need to take a fresh look,” Doull says, “ In the scientific community, people tend to think that its settled… But when we looked at the studies that have been done, we found that many of these questions are unsettled and we have much less information than we should, considering how long this [fluoridation] has been going on. I think that’s why fluoridation is still being challenged so many years after it began, In the face of ignorance, controversy is rampant.”

  12. tokyotaos

    In the article dentist Bill Chambers is quoted as saying, “Fortifying water is no different than when we add vitamin D to milk or iodine to table salt.”

    Well, actually, there is a very big difference between putting something in our body that has been fortified with vitamin D or iodine and putting something in our body fortified with fluoride.

    ONE OF THEM IS NOT AN ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT!

  13. Rob Close

    i have to say, the pro-fluoride activists have a very weak argument.

    basically – it’s ok to contaminate our water-supply for the possibility/probability that it helps our teeth. OUR TEETH.

    we know fluoride is toxic – so much so that they have to limit it’s ppms – yet somehow injecting half as much is ok? it’s TOXIC. just because we can probably handle that amount doesn’t mean everyone always will.

    so we have to live with the possibility that we’re being poisoned for the sake our teeth? OUR TEETH!?!? the benefit comes NOWHERE close to the possible negatives. and that Scientific American article mentions TEETH FIRST as the places you can develop DISORDERS from due to fluoride! good lord!

    so let’s get that referendum going. just because city council is a bunch of wimps doesn’t mean the citizens are.

  14. Nam Vet

    If the good Lord wanted there to be fluoride in our water, He would’ve put it in from the getgo. NO on forced fluoride. Let the people who want fluoride go to the drug store and buy it on their own.

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