It’s the Local Economy Stupid!

It’s the Local Economy Stupid!

“The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states. The 21st century will be a century of cities.” – Wellington E. Web, former Denver mayor.

Urbanization, with a measure of devolution by federal government and the increasing global impact of local municipalities, are putting cities in the high position of preserving democracy, holding increasing political power, and for our discussion today, powering the economy.

In the mid-nineties, more than 80% of economic advances were driven by cities and metro economies – including holding more than 80% of employment. It became clear that cities were, after all, going to be the bailiwicks of cash, progress and power for the 21st century.

Even with the Great Recession, growth – where it is happening – is only happening where the policies of cities are daring, sound and backed by inspiring leadership. The leaders of our cities are, quite measurably, on track to leading the world.

There is dissent, to be sure. Debate makes for a solid democracy which also grows the economy. But there’s a lot of petty rivalry and platitude whirling in Cincinnati again.

A spate of recent op-eds, full of attacks and rhetoric, proves this. And the string of authors runs the gamut in party affiliations. We are all guilty.

Our leaders – elected, appointed and de facto – speaking in buzz words like “vision”, “progress”, “more jobs”, “change”,  must start offering solutions in their pieces, energy in their remarks and relationship building in their outreach. The divisiveness creates a stall. Don’t blindly believe me. Measure it. Compare with cities on the move. If you want something new, you have to do something new.

Wailing about poverty, pleading for help with the heroin plague and complaining about housing fails our city. I know. In my work fighting addiction, I realized early on, really, that nobody cares. Until I made it about them. Poverty? Eyes glaze over – unless they are the one in a food line. Calling out the Mayor and other leaders – it can be indulging, and I’ve imbibed, too – but doesn’t it leave us walking away with the ick of dissatisfaction and hopelessness because we haven’t taken any real action? Nothing changed. We only threw an adult, political temper tantrum.

Fine. If we have to kvetch about the Hand Up Initiative, we are also responsible to list real solutions. Seelbach took some action here. We must energize the reader by showing them how poverty and addiction does impact their wallet and quality of life. We must labor for a unity, putting aside how it will affect someone’s upcoming campaign or PR blitz.

Poverty, addiction, housing, disability, the Streetcar, our icons – it is about the economy stupid. The local economy. The budget, ordinances and the Initiative are great. But with Cincinnati ranking high in poverty and the working poor, we need broad, lasting and serious policy changes. That’s me whining. Here are some solutions:

  1. Those in poverty – and the working poor – are not just poor in cash. There is a spirit of hopelessness taking root. “Something’s gotta give. Is it ever gonna get better?” Is the daily refrain among the poor? Leaders must lead. Here, our leaders can be more present and hopeful. They can reach out and a share a real light for the end of the tunnel.
  2. The answer to lack of democracy is always more democracy. Income inequality on the scale that Cincinnati has is just that – a struggle in democracy. The answer is to get those in poverty to be a part of the democratic process. Leaders have to reach out and pull this community in. They are disconnected and dejected. Let the leaders lead people into engagement.
  3. Access to and skills training for jobs is indispensable. But without education on finance, banking and cash management, the poor will remain stuck. I never received any financial training in Cincinnati Public Schools. We need an immediate, mandatory education policy that trains every Cincinnati student on how to manage money, work with banks and understand what credit really is. It needs to be serious and implemented quickly.
  4. Why is the Poverty Task Force under the umbrella of the Human Services Committee? No one wants to admit, but it’s because we look at those in poverty as a liability. Progressive, changing cities look at this segment as an untapped asset. A resource. Wal-Mart did it. They built their entire business model around a low income market. They are the largest retailer on the planet. What would happen if we behaved that way in policy and outreach? Put poverty treatment under the auspices of the Economic Growth committee please. Or at least begin to split it.
  5. Local banks across the country were almost entirely unaffected by the banking crisis. They are stable! Our local government must labor openly with Cincinnati banks. We can work with them to offer financial products – with wisdom – to the poor and working poor that national predatory check cashing and title loan shops offer instead. This further strengthens our hometown banks by growing their market and our city by creating tangible relationships in neighborhoods.

And there is so much more. Yes, bolster the human services. Yes, drug addiction is a large part of homelessness and poverty. So we need a holistic approach.

We need initiatives and leadership that are willing to be bold and work long-term as well as short-term. Policies should still be working hard as a long after this body leaves office.

In a world of increasing distrust of government and scrutiny of non-profits, the emerging global currency is not in the form of paper money at all. It comes based on the foundations laid in cities. And that currency is in authentic relationships and coalition building. As a local leader – in any capacity – you aren’t going to get that accomplished and build wealth in this currency by complaining, attacking and whining.

For the sake of Cincinnati and our metro economy, get out of your own way and offer real solutions… and a hand. Even when it makes you sick.

Take the Teeth Out of Cincinnati Water Costs

Take the Teeth Out of Cincinnati Water Costs

Take the Teeth Out of Cincinnati Water Costs to Strengthen, Audit and Grow our Local Economy!

Opinion by Speak Up Cincinnati Founder, Jason Lee Overbey

Some of you won’t like this opinion. Grab some coffee and get ready!

You probably know by now that Cincinnati City Council, after rejecting a 7.5% water rate increase, did approve a 4% rate increase to take effect January 01, 2015.

Just today news came out that Cincinnati’s recovery from the recession rates 100 out of the 150 largest U.S. cities.  And, Cincinnati ranked 121 out of 150 for “overall” economic environment.

To the Mayor’s credit, we do have a balanced budget – not without controversy and imperfections. Still, it would behoove our leaders to take a look at every possible economy our City can take. Will the elected and the appointed adhere to their self-imposed goal of making Cincinnati’s (and thus, the region’s) economy the strongest in the Midwest? Perhaps they can take a look at this – an honest look – as part of a more comprehensive and far-reaching strategy.


Before you throw your laptop out the window, I assure you this piece is not about a conspiracy. It isn’t about government population control theories or Nazis… or even health benefits, per se. I am well aware that conspiracy theories surrounding the use of fluoride in water abound. This is not one of those.

This is purely an economic (and potentially discriminatory) consideration. So please stay with me a bit.

Our leaders would do well to take an honest and thorough look at the cost Cincinnati Water Works has in relation to the fluoridation of our water supply. It’s evident that John Cranley has no qualms about commissioning task forces to address issues in our City. A balanced and fair fluoridation committee could save us a lot of dollars. (Balanced means not overstocked with dentists and health workers)

How many dollars? According to the City of Cincinnati’s searchable expenditure database, in 2011 CWW spent $407, 096 just for the chemical fluorine alone. In 2012, the cost was $387, 176. That’s almost $800,000 for a two year period.

Clearly, the above costs do not include operations, labor and maintenance of water fluoridation equipment. Some cities pay up to $600,000 a year or more for those combined costs. (Speak Up Cincinnati was not readily able to obtain CWW costs for maintenance and upkeep)

Ending fluoride treatment for CWW could save the City approximately $1mil a year. Please… take that in for a moment. 


Since 2007, more than 200 municipalities throughout the U.S. have taken a look at the fluoridation costs of their water systems and chosen to end the practice. Just last year Portland, Oregon was set afire with the debate over adding fluoride to their water supply. The citizens shot the measure down voting 60.5% against fluoridating their water. The two main arguments against it were the costs and educated skepticism based on recent findings about the true efficacy – and necessity – of America fluoridating water supplies.

Other local lawmakers, in addition to the cost savings and concerns over real benefits of fluoridation, have raised ethical and legal concerns over the practice. They cite it is forcing medical treatment upon populations without their consent. The type of fluoride cities use is not organic. Without a vote from the populous, they ask, is it Constitutional? Cincinnati hasn’t voted on the issue since the 70s, when Article XI was added to the City Charter making it illegal for CWW to add fluoride to the water supply without a vote. Obviously it passed in the 70s. Since then, however, many new peer reviewed findings have been released raising reasonable doubts about its efficacy. We have a much larger collection of information about fluoridation now. It is time to revisit the issue. And it is my understanding that no vote is required in an election to cease the activity.

The time has come for our region to look at the issue again.

Several other Ohio cities have decided against it as well, including: Springfield – 2005, Yellow Springs – 2011, Wooster – 2000, Xenia – 2009 and Lancaster – 2004.


You can scour the web for information about fluoride and the supply is bountiful. As I did with my research for this article, you have to check and recheck and consider every source with care. After filtering out the forums, the conspiracy theories and the unscientific data, I found myself on the other end of four solid days of investigation about the topic. The main takeaway I had personally was that the dental industry and its lobbyists are the most hardcore advocates for the fluoridation of water. Outside that realm their seems to be no real consensus. However, and interestingly, over the past 3 to 5 years, more reports are being published that shed real concern over the necessity of the practice.

Without going into great detail, the main argument for fluoride as an additive is for the prevention of tooth decay and the promotion of oral health. Apart from this, advocates for fluoride addition don’t seem to have other validations. The rest of their research is spent on countering claims against its use.

Here are some other contentions made by the camps for fluoridation:

1. It is accessible by everyone through water.

2. It is safe.

3. Saves money in dental care and corrective costs.

4. Removal of fluoride will disproportionately affect poorer children who have limited access to other fluoride sources.

5. Claims against water fluoridation are junk science.

6. In Ohio, the Law mandates fluoridation.



The research available against using fluoride in the water supply is mounting – as well as the cogency of their arguments. We don’t have time to go into them. I encourage you to research on your own before you decide. It would be expected that any task force commissioned by the Mayor would go to great lengths to compile peer reviewed evidence from both camps. And, the research process does not take that long.

1. Since the 1970s fluoride has become almost omnipresent in toothpastes, gels and mouthwashes.

2. Therefore, there is access for everyone.

3. So far the consensus is that fluoride added in water is safe. With more studies coming out, however, concerns are being raised about overexposure. Fluoride occurs naturally and organically in some foods and other sources, it is in dental care products, it is added to the water supply, and now organizations are adding it to salt and milk worldwide. The federal Department of Health and Human Services recommended reducing fluoride put into the water supply. The government has also told parents with infant children to use caution when reconstituting baby formula with fluoridated water due to concerns of overexposure. There are also concerns about fluoride being passed in a mother’s breast milk.

4. Although safe, as far as we can tell, the chemical fluoride we use in water supplies is mostly a byproduct of the manufacture of fertilizer and not the same as in toothpastes.

5. Too much exposure to fluoride (now that its presence has increased) causes fluorosis – a mostly cosmetic problem that causes white or yellow spots on teeth. However, many doctors, dentists and chemistry professionals are coming out with concerns. They cite that spotted teeth can indicate other bones in the body are absorbing too much fluoride which can lead to fracture. The CDC released a report in 2010 linking fluoride to an increase in fluorsis among children 12 to 15 years old.

6. In Cincinnati, potential for overexposure disproportionately impacts the African American community. 44.8% of the City population is black with a large portion living at or below poverty level (estimates at 40-50%) with little or no access to education of, testing and diagnosis of fluorosis conditions. However, the elimination of fluoride from the water supply will not disproportionately affect African American communities since fluoride is almost ubiquitous in over-the-counter dental care products and is only applied topically. The CDC reports, along with other studies, that cases of fluorosis are on the rise in the United States.

7. The CDC released a report in 2005 showing that black children in the United States suffer significantly higher rates and more severe forms of fluorosis than any other segment of the population. Thus, if left unchecked as a public policy, fluoridation is tantamount to racial discrimination – albeit unintentional. Regardless of intention, it is the duty of elected officials to see if racial disparity exists – even if committed unwittingly. To my knowledge, no cases have been tried in court to argue this point – yet.

8. Fluoride as an additive is used to treat people, not the water itself. So why do treatment plants govern its administration? Is there adequate medical strictures and supervision as such?

9. Fluoride is most effective when used topically, as in toothpastes and other dental care products. Its efficacy when ingested, as with water, has been highly scrutinized over the past 10 years.

10. With fluoride so widely available from natural and over-the-counter sources – as well as water itself (in low amounts) without additives – adding it to the water supply is no longer a justifiable government expense. Putting it into tap water is an imprecise way of distribution. This is because how much fluoride a person absorbs depends on their weight and the amount of water they consume. Also, with some portions of the population consuming more fluoridated water (patients with diabetes who drink more, athletes, tea drinkers [tea plants absorb high levels of fluoride from soil]), how can efficacy be measured?

Therefore, no one really knows what dosage of fluoride a person gets from water and makes the benefits of water fluoridation hard to quantify in scientific studies – let alone in auditing a local municipality budget. What is the baseline? What is the control? This inequality in dosing is a factor, also, in the widely varying conclusions of different studies – for and against – fluoride. One may very well step away from an honest investigation into the topic feeling as if no one knows what is going on with fluoridation.

11. Fluoridated cities are still facing dental crises – including Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Look up the numbers. They are published. How can we justify the cost of adding it to water if the #1 argument for it isn’t bearing fruit? Increasing access to prevention and care is the only real solution for the problem.

12. Dr. Heyroth, from Cincinnati’s own Kettering Institute, although a fierce advocate for fluoride treatment, testified under Congressional oath that the advice for people with kidney trouble is to drink fluoride-free spring water – 50% of fluoride is removed by the kidneys.  1 in 10 Americans have some form of chronic kidney disease (CKD) with numbers rising every year since 2000. Who represents this demographic?

13. Fluoride is not meant to be ingested or swallowed. It is meant to be applied, and is most effective, topically as with over-the-counter dental care products. Thus, part of the reason for warnings against swallowing toothpaste.

14. As mentioned previously, public water fluoridation ignores completely the principle of medical consent by the masses of those who drink it. (The FDA does not have say over water fluoridation. This was left to the EPA)

15. The Fluoride Action Network claims the pro-fluoridation community is purely a political game with powerful interests having high financial stakes in fluoridation.

16. Fluoridation is not, and never will be, a water quality issue. It is a medical issue. So why do water treatment plants oversee it?

17. With access to more fluoride sources, the point of saving money for preventative dental care by way of fluoridation of water is moot.

18. Newer studies questioning water fluoridation are not junk science with more peer reviewed reports being published.

19. Ohio law allows for cities to stop fluoridation of their water supply. However, they do only allow 240 days for referendum.


Since jurisdictions outside of Cincinnati City limits contract with CWW for their supply, the Mayor’s task force would also have to look at whether or not Cincinnati residents solely pay for fluoridation (Speak Up Cincinnati could not obtain numbers in time for this publication). We do know that rates are higher in those contractual jurisdictions – but this is due to capital costs included by CWW.

Cincinnati already shares a disproportionate cost of regional social services and holds key assets that benefit the entire region while being obligated to absorb the entire costs of those assets. This city-suburb-regional divide has recently raised its head in the battle over funding the salvation of Cincinnati icons. We need to keep this in mind with our water costs, too.


If you have paid attention, I am in favor of putting an end to the fluoridation of Cincinnati’s water supply and lowering – however small – Cincinnati water costs. If not already clear, I wanted to make it so. This is an opinion piece. But I want to encourage you – and the City – to seriously explore both sides. I am convinced any thinking person will come to the same conclusion.

And again, this is not about health or government conspiracies or pollution for me – not mainly. This is about money. This is about questioning a policy from the 1960s in the light of new, actionable intelligence. Those other arguments may warrant investigation but with so many conflicting studies, leaving even the experts shaking their heads, they will only serve to support the cost-saving considerations of cessation.

Other than money, my only other major concerns are 1) racial discrimination in the application of the water policy and 2) the other Jurisdictions’  share of the costs of the  fluoridation process – if we don’t end it.

I stated in the beginning, with CWW rate increases and slow recovery from the recession, Cincinnati needs to look at EVERY area it can. Councilmember Wendell Young, when faced with the CWW rate increases, even proposed bottling and selling Cincinnati water since we have some of the best water in the nation. Pepsi and Coke already do this with their Aquafina and Dasani brands – they are both merely filtered tap water. The City of Hamilton tried it with discouraging results. Cincinnati has more resources and could come up – we pray – with better branding of the bottle itself for widespread distribution.

If we genuinely desire to become the leader of cities in the Midwest we have to do more. We have to dig more. We have to hold ourselves and our leaders to higher standards. From what I have ascertained from data from polls, speeches from City Council and the Mayor, and local business vision statements and from activist groups – progress and leadership is what everyone wants for Cincinnati. Hard work and open discussion, even if it is “only” to save $1mil a year, is what it will take.

If this topic gets out for Cincinnati citizens to… speak up about, the debate will get furious. Trust me. You’ll glean that from looking at other city debates on the issue. But at least we will have the dialogue.

So let’s start a conversation about it. Let’s get some numbers to clear up what I may have missed or misrepresented (yeah, it’s possible). I want to know more. I want to learn. Let’s do some studying with our local leaders – we have some of the smartest people around. And, if nothing else, it is a long overdue visitation on the matter. We are tardy to the party!

Please… email me or comment below.


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