City Hall Hustle: Fluoride, Firewalls, and Fusion

The paranoid style in Austin politics

The city manager's report was just the tip of the fluoridated iceberg. Austin's fluoridation policies, defended in a city staff report commissioned by Marc Ott and sent to City Council Nov. 13, continue to come under fire. As we reported last week ("Unstable Element," Nov. 27), due to continuing complaints from citizens opposed to municipal fluoridation, a report assembled by Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza came out swinging in support of the practice, saying it has "no harmful impact to human health or adverse effect on aquatic life and provides a public benefit in preventing dental decay."

However, the staff report on the popular periodic table mainstay seems to have left members of the city's Environmental Board out of their element. The controversy stems from a recommendation the board issued this summer, asking for a task force to examine fluoride policies. As board members serve in only an advisory role, their entreaty to the City Council went apparently unacted upon – until the board learned of the report's existence. Some were dismayed, to say the least, about not being further consulted or even told of city staff taking the council directive into their own hands.

"I too am very disappointed at the lack of communication regarding this important health matter," Environmental Board Secretary Phil Moncada wrote in an e-mail to Garza and others, calling the breakdown "another disappointment in regard to open communication and transparency." For his part, Garza says the board's city staff liaison had previously contacted the Water Utility for a briefing on the staff report, thereby implying some familiarity with its findings.

That briefing on the staff report was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2, as we go to press. Several of the principals cited in the study, including Health and Human Resources Department Medical Director Philip Huang and Austin Water Utility Assistant Treatment Director Jane Burazer, will be on hand to defend their findings. Specifically, it sounds like Moncada is concerned about Austin's fluoride additive – hydrofluorosilicic acid, which is created by phosphate fertilizer manufacturers and is essentially leftovers from the refinement process. "No portion of the report mentions that they are taking a waste product and referring to it as fluoride that is being added to our drinking water," Moncada writes.

Put that in your margarita and drink it.

The Merry-Go-Round

Elsewhere in the Hustle threat report: As a newspaperman, I'm acutely cognizant of the fact the Internet will one day eat us alive. But what of a Web shutdown? It clearly threatens government functions, international commerce, and the latest pornography technology. But rest assured: Your City Council is on the case. Council Member Laura Morrison will take part in a "cyber security table top exercise" on Thursday, Dec. 3. The goals are "to encourage group discussion about vulnerabilities, policies and procedures, and mitigation strategies" and to "maximize cyber security awareness," writes Otis J. Latin, director of Austin's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Oh, and lunch will be provided too.

Sure, the Hustle's having some LOLs at the overheated security rhetoric, but our hat's off to Morrison for taking part. We should also note her newest office hire, Reagan Hackleman. News 8 Austin's former City Hall reporter, Hackleman is the latest in the long line of media professionals to switch from reporting on City Hall to working in it: previous Chron scribe Rachel Proctor May, first in Brewster McCracken's former council office, now at Austin Energy; former National Public Radio reporter Larry Schooler, now a Community Engagement Coordinator at the city; and of course, former Chronicle Politics Editor Daryl Slusher, now tasked with the thankless gig of environmental affairs at Austin Water Utility after his City Council stint. The city is a popular destination – where else would you expect policy wonks to land?

Cold Fusion

Switching from security threats external to internal, the ACLU of Texas held a press conference Wednesday, asking what the hell is up with Austin's "fusion center" – cross-referenced databases used to track and, in some cases, supposedly predict criminal activity. Austin's fusion center proposal, creating the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, came before the City Council in August. Police Chief Art Acevedo said at the time that the ARIC would only assemble existing police records – arrest and incident reports – and none of the private-sector data that sets privacy advocates on edge. The ARIC was slated to be up and running by year's end, and the ACLU was eager to provide input. But, they say, the response has been a deafening silence. An ACLU letter to the chief Nov. 6 reads, "two months have passed and we have not received a response to our recommendations regarding the draft privacy policy." Now it's been another month, and the ACLU hopes to force the issue with the press conference, featuring ACLU representatives and former City Council Member Jackie Goodman.

Fluoride, cyber-terror, fusion centers: It sure beats writing about zoning variances.


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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Hall politics, fluoridation, Environmental Board, Phil Moncada, Austin Water Utility, Laura Morrison, Austin Regional Intelligence Center, Jackie Goodman

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