A group calling itself Clean Water Portland announced immediately after the Portland City Council voted 5-0to add fluoride to the region's drinking water that it would challenge the decision with a citizen referendum.
Unlike an initiative, which opponents earlier called for, a referendum has the potential to suspend the city's ordinance, which technically takes effect in 30 days even though Portland officials don't plan to add fluoride to the region's water until 2014.
"If the petition qualifies for the ballot, the effective date of the ordinance is suspended until a public vote," said Andrew Bryans of the city auditor's office. The group needs to collect nearly 20,000 valid signatures to push the measure.
Kim Kaminski, a spokeswoman for Clean Water Portland, said around 11 a.m. that she expected to file paperwork with Portland's auditor "within the hour." However, city clerks still needed to file their own paperwork before that could happen, meaning the referendum won't get off the ground until this afternoon at the earliest.
Clean Water Portland says it has 125 volunteers to gather signatures and expects to have more than 25 paid signature gathers by the end of the week.
Opponents in August originally announced they would push an initiative to ask voters to ban fluoride in drinking water in 2014.
A referendum also would put the question to voters in 2014. But fluoride opponents wouldn't have to collect as many signatures. They'd have to do it in 30 days, however. If they're successful, they'd stop the city's ordinance from going into effect, blocking city officials' efforts to plan for fluoridation.
There's another reason opponents switched from an initiative to a referendum.
Commissioner Randy Leonard, fluoride's chief proponent on the City Council, announced after opponents said they would launch an initiative that he would take action to put fluoride in the region's water before opponents could get the ban on the ballot.
Portland voters have rejected fluoride at the ballot box three times, most recently in 1980.
-- Beth Slovic
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