Utility companies are entrusted with precious resources and often have a government granted monopoly on the products provided to their customers. Goods and services provided by companies that face competition must work to earn your business. Competition is good for consumers, but it’s usually lacking with utility companies.
Water is essential to life. No one would live more than a few days without it, yet few people live in an environment where it’s feasible to dig a well. Thus, most people are dependent upon water supplied from a municipal source monopoly.
The problem is further compounded with Water Boards in Tennessee because many of these Boards are unelected and get to select the nominees that local elected officials must make their appointments from. It’s a closed loop system where unelected Boards get to choose unelected nominees. Customers must address their grievances with the local elected official who has the precarious job of choosing from the list of people the unelected Board provides. Customers can address their concerns to the Board, but members face no fear of defeat in upcoming elections since they are appointed, and worse, are able to choose the nominees for the appointments. Usually these Boards re-nominate themselves.
There is no mandate to fluoridate the water provided to customers in Tennessee. Several Water Boards stopped fluoridating when legislator Joey Hensley M.D. sent a letter to the Boards informing them of some of health dangers with adding fluoride compounds to water.
Many still continue the practice of fluoridating though. Hensley was frustrated with the lack of accountability of the Water Boards in his district so he passed legislation in the House to require the Boards in his district to be elected. The legislation didn’t pass in the Senate.
HB 1186 by Representative John DeBerry and SB 1211 by Senator Stacey Campfield will give voters a say in whether they want water fluoridation to continue, if their Board is fluoridating. As written, the bill doesn’t allow for a vote to add fluoride to areas where there is no fluoridation. It only allows for citizens who have previously had no voice on the matter to say whether they wish for the practice to continue. This legislation brings together the unusual combination of a Democratic sponsor in Memphis with an ultraconservative Republican in East Tennessee, showing that thoughtful comprise can be good for the democratic process.