HIAWASSEE, Ga. – In recent weeks, FYN investigated and reported details leading to the exclusion of Towns County voters’ ability to weigh-in on the upcoming City of Hiawassee fluoride referendum on the May 19 ballot. Towns County citizens, who expected to have a say as to whether fluoride would be added to the local water supply, did not take the news in stride, publicly voicing stark opposition to the controversial additive.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales responded to the upset in a press release, stating that the City of Hiawassee was unaware that the signatures of both city and county voters were needed on last year’s petition to secure a ballot referendum for the full scope of water consumers to decide. “All parties were under the impression that all water users, City and County, were to be included in the vote. We are now being told that since the signatures were for the City jurisdiction, that only the City voters would have the opportunity to vote on this matter,” Ordiales stated in part on March 7.
FYN’s investigation has proven otherwise. Based on documents received, Mayor Ordiales was made aware by state authorities, in addition to the local elections board, that county voters would be exempt from participating in the fluoride referendum without the required, petitioned signatures of county citizens.
Following information gathered from Corbin McLain — a county activist who stated that she gathered only city signatures per instruction from Mayor Ordiales in late-August/early-September of 2019 — FYN filed an open records request with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to review copies of correspondence exchanged between the mayor and the state agency.
“Based on the 2018 Wholesale Water Written Agreement that you submitted between Hiawassee and Towns County, the Attorney General’s Office determined that since Hiawassee Water System reserves up to 45% of the water capacity to Towns County Water Authority, Hiawassee Water System and Towns County Water Authority both have a right to the finished water, with Hiawassee (55%) and Towns County Authority (45%),” EPD Compliance Specialist Alisha Bailey advised Mayor Ordiales on May 22, 2019. “For the purposes of the referendum under O.C. G.A § 12-5-175, both of the combined systems are considered as one. Based on the opinion of the Attorney General’s office, the petition for the referendum should include 10% of the registered voters who voted in the last general election from Hiawassee Water System and Towns County Water Authority.“
A mere 35 signatures were ultimately collected, however, solely from the City of Hiawassee voter base despite Mayor Ordiales’ knowledge that 10-percent of county voters’ signatures were necessary to include all water consumers in the controversial vote.
“I just received the numbers from our elections board and it looks like we’ll need to get 875 signatures. What is the
needed information for the petition,” Mayor Ordiales asked the EPD in an email dated May 30, 2019, solidifying the fact that Ordiales was well-aware of the mandated stipulations.
Several Hiawassee City Council members, in addition to Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, expressed shock in learning that county voters will not be involved in the potential inclusion of fluoride, a decision that will affect water consumers beyond Hiawassee’s city limits.