Newly released public records about Mayor Dave Bronson’s decision to briefly shut off fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply show that the mayor’s spokesman had been emailed information about the shutoff by another official before he categorically denied the incident happened.
Bronson temporarily halted fluoridation of the city’s water supply during an Oct. 1 visit to Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility’s Eklutna Water Treatment Plant. City law requires Anchorage’s water supply be fluoridated. The mayor eventually said he ordered fluoride to be shut off after workers told him they were experiencing health issues related to the substance.
The fluoride shutoff was first reported by the Alaska Landmine in December in an anonymously-sourced article.
The administration says the mayor did not break city code by temporarily turning off the fluoride, but the Anchorage Assembly is pressing forward with an inquiry and requested public records related to the incident. The administration released 60 pages of documents last week, including 38 pages of emails, photos and texts related to the fluoride shutoff.
The mayor’s office has not responded to questions about the documents. Some of those emails had previously been released in response to requests from the Daily News and Landmine.
The emails show that Bronson’s spokesman Corey Allen Young — who initially denied that the situation occurred — had been emailed information about the mayor’s decision months before.
In an email from Deputy Municipal Manager Kolby Hickel sent to Young at 4:15 p.m. on Oct. 1, Hickel said, “At 2:55 p.m. Mayor Bronson directed the staff to stop adding fluoride to our drinking water.”
“This will save $100k in chemical costs per year and will save $1 million in upgrade capital costs. This is a health and safety issue for our employees who handle this chemical, which we buy from Belgium,” Hickel said.
A little while later, Hickel also sent Young an email containing photos of bags of the chemical compound added to the water supply as a fluoridation agent.
Young replied to that email, “Thank You Kolby!”
Young told the Landmine at the time of its December report that all three of the allegations detailed in the article, including the fluoride incident, were “false.”
“This did not happen,” Young told the Landmine before it published the article. He again told Alaska Public Media that the claims were false in an article published two days later, and did not respond to questions from the Daily News. But the next day Young confirmed in an emailed statement that the mayor gave an order to temporarily shut off the fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply.
After the statement was sent out, Young said he was on leave when the Landmine story was published, that he was initially mistaken about the fluoride situation and that he didn’t then have the details or full information.
Since the emails were released last week, Young has not answered a question about why he told two reporters that the incident did not occur.
The public records also show a disagreement between Municipal Manager Amy Demboski and AWWU manager Mark Corsentino about the events surrounding the mayor’s decision.
Administration officials have said that Corsentino asked the mayor to shut off the fluoride — which Corsentino previously denied.
In the newly released emails, the AWWU manager, Hickel and Demboski continue to provide conflicting accounts. Those emails were sent in December, a few days after the Assembly launched its inquiry.
“If asked under oath, I will need to be honest, and the statement that I asked the Mayor to direct fluoride be shut off does not align with what was said,” Corsentino said in an email to Demboski. “There were several witnesses to this conversation, so I think there is risk, but PR (public relations) is not my area of expertise.”
Corsentino said during the mayor’s tour he said the utility “remains neutral on the addition of fluoride, shutting off fluoridation process does not violate federal or state regulations, but it is in code as ordained by the Assembly to add it.”
According to Corsentino’s email, the mayor said at the time: “I will take this up with the Assembly, I will issue an immediate press release to let the community know, and let me deal with the heat from the Assembly and the press.”
Corsentino also told Demboski that they “need to get ahead of what may come out during the investigation.”
“I want to be aligned on the message going out so we can protect the Municipality and its Utility,” he said.
In a reply to his email, Demboski lambasted Corsentino for “changing the version of events,” and said that she was “shocked” by his response because she recalled a phone conversation between her and Corsentino about the fluoride shutoff directly after the mayor returned from the tour.
Demboski said in her email that Corsentino confirmed to her that he asked the mayor to turn off the fluoride, and that he explained employees had complained of eye irritation and coughing. She also said that he confirmed to her that he was aware of the code requirement and that he had not advised the mayor of the requirement.
“There are at least 5 witnesses to the conversation you and I had on the phone, and it is very troubling that you readily admitted to me that you asked the Mayor to turn the fluoride off on October 1st, but now are changing your responses,” she said in the email.
Demboski, Corsentino and the mayor’s office did not respond to questions about the email exchanges and the difference in their versions of events.
A previously released email, sent on the day of the shutoff between AWWU employees, stated that the mayor was informed of the city’s requirement during the tour, though the mayor had been told it was required by the city’s charter, while the law is actually in city code.
Corsentino, while questioned by the Assembly in a January work session, said he had told the mayor that fluoridation can be paused without breaking city code because it stays in the system for “days ... if not weeks later.”
The mayor’s office has said that city code was not broken because Bronson ordered the fluoride be turned back on just a few hours later, because the fluoride levels in drinking water did not significantly change while it was off and because the system is regularly shut down for maintenance.
Assembly leaders say they have not yet decided on next steps as the Assembly pursues its inquiry into the fluoride situation and two other alleged incidents described in the Landmine article.
In a letter to Assembly leaders that accompanied the records, Demboski called the alleged incidents in the Landmine’s article “gossip and misinformation” and criticized the Assembly, saying the were wasting municipal resources on the records request.
“Taxpayers expect elected officials to be better stewards of municipal resources,” she said.