Hiawassee mayor knew to include county in fluoride vote

Investigative Report, News
City of Hiawassee - fluoride

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.

Click to view full statement from Mayor Ordiales

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.

Click to read: Fluoride may soon be added to Hiawassee’s water supply

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.

City of Hiawassee - fluoride

An email exchanged between Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales and the EPD.

“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.


County citizens not permitted to vote on water fluoridation

Citizens, activists react to inability to vote on fluoride

Hiawassee Fluoride

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Negative public feedback emerged following FYN’s report stating that Towns County citizens will not have a say on the potential addition of fluoride to their water. The controversial issue was expected to go before both county and city voters on the May 19 ballot due to many county residents consuming water from the City of Hiawassee’s supply. The news was initially announced via Towns County Board of Elections Chair Janet Olivia on March 3, with Olivia describing the change as government “miscommunication.”

Click to read: County citizens not permitted to vote on water fluoridation

FYN spoke with Towns County attorney Robb Kiker, March 5. Kiker explained that because only city residents signed a 2019 circulated petition to place the fluoride referendum on the ballot, county electors are not permitted to participate in the decision. Additionally, Kiker stated that a city cannot call for a countywide referendum.  FYN contacted Corbin McLain, the county resident who was tasked with collecting the signatures for the City of Hiawassee last summer. McLain stated that she was instructed by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. per the Environmental Protection Divison (EPD), to solely garner city support for the ballot referendum. A total of 35 signatures were submitted to the Towns County Board of Elections, 10-percent of the Hiawassee citizens who voted in the last election, an amount mandated by the EPD. In a letter obtained by FYN, Georgia EPD relayed to Mayor Ordiales last year that both city and county citizens should vote on the measure, considering that Towns County residents receive City of Hiawassee water, per instruction from the State Attorney’s Office.

“We were under the impression that all voters would have the opportunity to cast their opinion on this matter,” Mayor Ordiales told FYN on March 5. “At this time, our attorneys, both County and City, are in touch with the State to determine how to proceed.”

Ordiales added that an update will be provided once a resolution is received from the EPD. FYN contacted several Hiawassee City Council members who expressed that county voters should have a say in the matter and that they were under the full assumption that would be the case.

FYN discussed the matter with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw on numerous occasions throughout the past year, with Bradshaw consistently expecting a countywide vote to take place this spring.”I was surprised to hear the news,”Bradshaw said earlier this week. “I was led to believe that both city and county voters would decide on whether to add fluoride.”

Citizens opposing fluoridation of the local water supply have since launched a Facebook page to draw attention to the contested issue. While some proponents of fluoridation list the dental benefits attributed to the additive, critics claim that the dangers outweigh the good.

“The Fluoride Action Network (FAN) has documented hundreds of published, peer-reviewed studies finding evidence of fluoride’s harms,” FAN Chair Rick North told FYN on Thursday. “Many have been funded by the National Institutes of Health and have found that levels in fluoridated water are linked to significantly lower IQs and higher ADHD rates in children. Many organizations that once endorsed fluoridation have pulled back and no longer take a position, including the Alzheimer’s Association, National Down Syndrome Society, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Kidney Fund and Center for Science in the Public Interest. It’s actually one of the most widely rejected health interventions in the world, opposed by most nations, including nearly all in Europe, and 95% of the world’s population. Fluoride is available topically in toothpaste if people want it. But FAN believes that no one should be forced to ingest a drug they oppose through drinking water, taking away their freedom of choice.”

Dr. Johnny Johnson Jr., a pediatric dentist and President of the American Fluoridation Society, offered support for fluoridation in an email to FYN.

“Fluoridation has been identified as the most practical and cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all members of a community, regardless of age, education, or income,” Johnson said in part. “These advantages, combined with fluoridation’s contribution to dramatic declines in both the prevalence and severity of tooth decay, led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name water fluoridation one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century. I work with the non-profit, all-volunteer, unpaid group of healthcare providers of the American Fluoridation Society.  Our work is to disseminate evidence-based credible science on water fluoridation.  We do not accept a single penny for our efforts.  The opponents to water fluoridation have scared pregnant moms and used fear-invoking pseudoscience to cause people to question water fluoridation. We work to defend and protect the health, safety, and well-being of our countries families.”

FYN will continue to follow developments on the fluoride referendum leading up to the May 19 General Primary.

County citizens not permitted to vote on water fluoridation

Hiawassee fluoride

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – According to the Towns County Board of Elections and Registration, Towns County voters will not have a say on the May ballot as to whether fluoride will be added to the City of Hiawassee’s water supply. Towns County Board of Elections Chair Janet Olivia delivered the news to FYN on Tuesday, March 3, stating that a municipality is not authorized to call for a ballot referendum that includes input from county voters.

Although many county residents and businesses receive water through the City of Hiawassee, according to Olivia – who stated that the elections office consulted with Towns County Attorney Robb Kiker on the matter – the fluoridation decision will be determined solely by voters residing within Hiawassee city limits.

Click to read: Citizens to decide water fluoridation on May ballot

FYN contacted the City of Hiawassee and Towns County government for clarification on the matter, as both entities were seemingly under the impression that both city and county citizens would vote on the controversial topic of fluoridation.

FYN is awaiting additional information from Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell and Towns County Attorney Robb Kiker at this time.

On March 4, FYN contacted the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) who recommended last year that both city and county citizens vote on the issue. “The City of Hiawassee and Towns County, under the 2018 Wholesale Water Agreement provided to EPD, each have a right to the finished water produced by the Hiawassee Water System (HWS); HWS gets about 55 percent and the Towns County Water and Sewer Authority (TCWSA) about 45 percent,” Kevin Chambers, EPD Director of Communications, said. “Based on that agreement, EPD advised that the TCWSA and HWS are considered one system for purposes of O.C.G.A. 12-5-175 and that all water system users should be allowed to petition for and vote in any referendum.”

Continue to follow FYN for updates on the May 19 fluoride referendum.

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