One year after voting to stop adding fluoride to Pinellas County's drinking water, Commissioner Norm Roche has had a change of heart.
On Thursday, two days after voters unseated two Republican incumbents who had joined Roche in voting against fluoridation, the commissioner said he would support a proposal to add it back into the water.
"Voters have certainly been heard at some level here," he said. "Our job is to listen to what the majority of the voters want. That is the core of a representative government."
In October 2011, Roche led a discussion about fluoride in a workshop that ended abruptly with four commissioners — Roche, John Morroni, Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield — voting to end the practice.
Dentists protested the vote and by the spring of this year, the two Democrats challenging Bostock and Brickfield had made fluoride their central campaign issue.
Whether Morroni will join Roche in changing his vote is unclear — the chairman could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Roche said he found the issue's prominence in the campaigns disturbing.
In an email he sent to colleagues a day before the election, he called the controversy over fluoride "an editorially-manufactured public hysteria."
In that same email, he proposed adding language to the county's charter that would establish a policy on whether to use the public drinking water "as a means by which to impact and improve the general public health of our county's residents."
"I have no doubt that as of Nov. 20th that fluoride will be introduced back into our drinking water," he said. "But my hope is we won't allow this to become a political football again."
Though Roche is only two years into his term, several people are already considering running against him, citing his fluoride vote as an example of his political vulnerability.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.