The city of Brooksville should treat public health the same as it treats public relations. An egregious double standard emerged last week when Mayor Lara Bradburn stifled a requested council discussion on fluoridating water, saying the matter should be debated during budget season. But, later, Bradburn and the rest of the council agreed to a $25,000 unbudgeted expense, acquiescing to a pitch to sponsor the upcoming Florida Blueberry Festival.
Well, which is it? Is the city so cash strapped that it can't consider a $6,000 annual allocation from its utilities budget for fluoride? Or, is it so flush with cash that it can toss $25,000 from its reserves to festival organizers who made an oral presentation, but provided no written documentation to the council in advance of the meeting?
The hypocrisy further deflates Bradburn's contention that the 2011 vote killing the city's fluoride program was a fiscal decision. Far from it. She and a unanimous council pulled an end run on transparency by eliminating funding for fluoride with no public notice. It came in a budget hearing after just 78 seconds of conversation that included a motion, explanation and vote, but no discussions of savings to the utilities department.
Now, 18 months after the clandestine maneuvering, health officials are pressing for a chance to present scientific and fiscal information to the council as a precursor for a potential reversal of that vote. Except Bradburn is afraid of a public discussion, having come up short in 2008 when she also sought to remove fluoride from the municipal water system. The mayor's close-minded approach is a disservice to her constituents.
If she truly is concerned about fiscal matters, then let her try to refute the cost-benefit analysis of fluoridating public drinking water. Residents in a city the size of Brooksville should expect annual savings of $16 per person from avoiding the costs of cavity treatments and lost time to dental visits. Bradburn cites concerns about excessive fluoridation even though the city's own utility's measurements showed levels within safe range of the optimal amount before the council pulled the plug in 2011.
Brooksville residents are being denied a health benefit available to nearly 13.8 million Floridians, or 78 percent of the state's population. Most recently, Pinellas County and the city of Plant City added fluoride to their water systems. Elected officials there understand the advantages of preventing tooth decay via a minimal annual expense to achieve optimal levels of fluoridated water. Elected officials in Brooksville, meanwhile, subscribe to dubious science or libertarian theories.
If only dental health concerns could match council's attention to public image. Check the mayor's sentiment on subsidizing the blueberry festival:
"It sends a message that we're a strong, vibrant community that is doing positive things.''
Unless, of course, the topic is oral health. Then, the message is silence and the image is of an unsophisticated council intolerant of opposing views.