Did state employees help pro-fluoride advocates on state time?

Did state employees help pro-fluoride advocates on state time? »Play Video
Anti-fluoride group Clean Water Portland filed a public records request and received copies of hundreds of emails from the Oregon Health Authority related to fluoridation. There are accusations the email exchanges indicate state employees helped pro-fluoride advocates on state time.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The leading group opposed to fluoridating Portland's water plans to call for an official investigation by the secretary of state into the state agency that strongly supports community fluoridation.

Clean Water Portland filed a public records request and obtained copies of Oregon Health Authority emails related to fluoridation from as far back as July 2012.

Clean Water Portland believes state employees were pressured by a pro-fluoride group to present the latest tooth decay numbers to its advantage.

An email from Shanie Mason, the state employee in charge of the Smile Survey, reads: "I'm (also) getting a ton of pressure from advocates like Upstream Public Health that have very specific ideas about how we should present our information. Unfortunately for them, I'm committed to maintaining the integrity of our work."

Upstream Public Health denies any inappropriate contact.

"I was very surprised to say that, you know, that one of the state's employees felt like we were pressuring them because I think that is really not true," said Mel Rader, co-director for Upstream Public Health. "We asked when it would come out, and we asked how they would present the data and said they weren't sure."

The data in question are in the 2012 Smile Survey, which shows kids in Multnomah County improved their dental health by 10 percent without fluoridation. About 50.7 percent of them had one or more cavities down from 56.3 percent in 2007.

The state's Smile Survey was released in April after pressure from the KATU Problem Solvers.

There are also accusations that OHA employees used state resources on state time to help pro-fluoride advocates.

The KATU Problem Solvers went through the hundreds of emails on Monday. They came across an email exchange with OHA employee Laurie Johnson on her state email account with another woman asking for pro-fluoride yard signs.

Johnson writes: "I have 3 of them in my car. Could you distribute them if I deliver them to you?"

The woman responds: "I could have my husband swing by today or tomorrow after he gets off work at 3:45 p.m. ... if that would work."

Johnson appears to agree to make the exchange in the state building parking lot on state time, saying: "I will come right down and give him the signs."

The question is whether the emails violate state law.

"Well, typically, if you are on the clock, you're not allowed to be engaged in political activity," said Tony Green, spokesman for the Oregon secretary of state. "But in your own time, whether it's on the weekend or the evenings or whenever you’re not on the clock, you have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else to participate in the political process."

In another email exchange, local dentist and fluoride advocate Kurt Ferre asked two OHA employees for their thoughts on an anti-fluoride website.

Shanie Mason responded with talking points, including the statement, "Let's do what we can to stop the disease before it starts!"

"Is this gone beyond just providing information and is it actually advocacy for either a candidate or a position on a ballot measure," Green said.

An OHA spokesman told KATU News that the agency is conducting an internal review to ensure all policies were followed correctly.

On Monday evening opponents of adding fluoride to Portland's water gathered at Mount Tabor for one last-minute push before Tuesday's election.

Click here for KATU’s full coverage of the fluoridation debate and ballot drop-off sites.