Rebecca Hunter, state commissioner of human resources, also is a board member of the Hixson Utility District as it faces demands for clean water. (Photo YouTube state video)

Rebecca Hunter, state commissioner of human resources, also is a board member of the Hixson Utility District as it faces demands for clean water. (Photo YouTube state video)

The effort to root out fluoride from the facilities at Hixson Utility District appears to face an uphill battle if the background of key board members is any indication.

Two of the three commissioners are on the state payroll and are thus likely to exhibit a progressive and caretaker perspective that favors long-unchallenged existing practices rather than allow for sudden changes for the public benefit urged by protesters.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio AM 1240 FM 101.1

On the other hand, high-level political people may have a good sense how to weigh public opinion and be willing to yield an old habit such as fluoridation if the clamor gets loud enough, especially since the industrial waste product — a booster for childhood tooth enamel — is losing favor around the world and is under fire in the scientific literature.

Perhaps the highest profile actor on the board is Rebecca R. Hunter, a woman who has a long track record of government service. Gov. Bill Haslam chose her to oversee the Department of Human Resources, meaning Commissioner Hunter is the personnel director for state government, employing 39,968 people in the 2015 fiscal year.

She and her husband, David, reside in Soddy-Daisy. She has been a member of the utility board eight years.

A second board members also has close connections with the state. Jeff Davis is employed as an attorney by the Department of Human Services, based in Nashville. As a state actor he may have a built-in set of pro-state and pro-government presuppositions, which tend to disregard constitutional rights and place the state above the people.

However, as an attorney and officer in the judicial branch of state government, he is prone to seek to reduce risk to clients. Fluoridation is a voluntary program in the water district not required by law that obliges customers to ingest a neurologically toxic material without the water seller’s enjoying any indemnity.

About Ken Rich, the third board member, little is known.

The Hixson Utility District is served by the general manager, Greg Butler. Mr. Butler refuses to consent to an interview or let me tour the group’s water treatment plant. Drawing from a clean underground aquifer, HUD serves 25,500 customers or accounts in an area reaching from C.B. Robinson bridge up the shore of Lake Chickamauga, past Lakesite and north to the waterway leading to Soddy Lake. The western side of the group’s service area is bounded by U.S. Highway 27.

The board’s next meeting is Dec. 16, a Friday, and clean-water backers plan to attend. Customers have not been notified that a vote will occur, so the earliest a vote might happen would be January.

Soddy-Daisy example

North West Utility District in north Hamilton County turned against the use of hydrofluorosilicic acid in July in a 6 to 1 vote. Local and state advocates had three points in their favor apart from their reasoned arguments for caution and prudence.

➤ The seven board members of the Northwest Utility District are mostly common working private people, not high-level professionals or government employees. Their scope of interest is neither regional nor state, but local. These are pickup truck people rather than Lexus people.

➤ The clean water proposal came from within the utility, not from an external bombardment or populist uproar. David Collett, general manager, pushed for abolition of hydrofluorosilicic acid injections. Mr. Collett, who is overseeing construction of a water treatment plant, was concerned about damage and corrosion of equipment caused by the acid. His staff’s loathing or suspicion of fluoride was universal.

➤ Support by dentists, the institutional supporters of fluoridation, was half-hearted. Few if any public comments taken online by Mr. Collett’s staff favored fluoridation.

People factor

The board in Soddy-Daisy is comprised mostly of ordinary working people, including a retiree and a barber.

Only one appears to have had political weight, that being Bill McGriff, county auditor 38 years. He voted for public safety and to reduce risk.

“I have read the reports’ pros and cons,” Mr. McGriff said. “I have seen firsthand what the fluoric acid  *** does to pipes, the concrete. It was a hard decision, but I thought, weighing both sides, that it’s better not to add something that could be destructive — we’re told in small amounts it’s not destructive — but I just thought it’s better to err on the side of safety.”

Ordinary working people doing their civic duty by sitting on the water utility board are perhaps less calculating than a seasoned political professional. They have fewer moving parts to keep working, less sense of remote interests, a simpler palette of options and risks to weigh. So the Soddy-Daisy board, being more representative of common people, had an easier decision to kill fluoridation than the Hixson board may have.

Mrs. Hunter — seasoned operative

The weightiest person on the Hixson board appears to be Mrs. Hunter. Before being elevated to boss of the state’s personnel department, she worked for six years as director of human resources for Hamilton County government and held management jobs in governmental finance for 25 years, according to a PR video by her department. She is a CPA and a certified professional in human resources. She is “a leader in innovative human resources practices, while shaping the best workforce for state government,” the department website says

Mrs. Hunter has been active in professional trade groups. She is a past president of the National Association of State Personnel Executives and the Tennessee Personnel Management Association

“Rebecca strongly believes that continuous improvement, lifelong learning and performance excellence are keys to success both personally and professionally,” her bio says.

People who want to air their views about hydrofluorocilicic acid treatments of the water should take a minute to comment at the HUD online window.

2011 YouTube video of Rebecca Hunter

Rebecca Hunter, who condescends to be a member of the Hixson Utility District, is the state’s commissioner of human resources and a member of Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet. 2 minutes.

Source: Tennessee state government comprehensive financial report, 2015, p. 231.


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