Philip and Linda Greene speak before the Council
                                        Spelman explains his off-stage laughter. Or tries to.

At citizens communication on December 13, 2012 – the last City Council meeting of the year – an  absurdity unfolded of a sort rarely seen on camera.  Philip Greene was speaking:  he urged the Council to heed the weight of evidence that ingested fluoride is not merely unnecessary but actually detrimental to the health of many. In ending, addressed the Council as to whether they had any studies which showed fluoride to be either safe or effective.

There was no response, of course. While Mayor Leffingwell waited in grim boredom for the buzzer to sound, councilmembers Bill Spelman and Laura Morrison enjoyed a joke together. This is a not unusual occurrence between the two “techies” on the Council, and is reminescent of the days when Randi Shade and Mike Martinez would sometimes put their heads together – literally – under the dais. (Sharing iPhone pictures, perhaps?).  Councilmembers seemingly feel free to behave rudely during citizens communication, perhaps assuming that no one of consequence will notice them. 

But Linda Greene noticed.  And in turn, she called them out roundly on it.  It was then that Spelman, known for his often quirky responses and clearly nonplussed, offered this extraordinary explanation: 

“I wasn’t laughing at Mr. Greene’s speech. I was only laughing at my own inability to control myself.”                    


Spelman, a professor at UT’s LBJ School for budding bureaucrats, speaks the most arcane variant of bureaucratese I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot.  But as one of the seven lords before whom we’re expected to supplicate, it befits us to understand what he is saying. Did he really laugh at his own inability to control himself? Or was the laughter a result of his inability to control himself?  In either case, what exactly made that so funny to him?  To councilmember Morrison?

He went on to try to explain that he wanted to engage with Philip Greene on the merits, but had to forego the opportunity, implying that rules prohibited Council from interacting with speakers during citizens communication.  While it’s true such a state law does exist, the Austin City Council members routinely violate it, especially on pressing matters like dog parks and billboards. 

Here’s a YouTube of Spelman requesting more information of another Fluoride Free Austin speaker, Darcy Bloom, nearly a year ago. (the information was provided but no followup ensued).

So will Spelman and Philip Greene have their conversation – and, more importantly, will anything useful come of it?

Who knows? My own observation over more than four years of steady advocacy tells me that this Council has made little to no attempt to deal with us in good faith; that they’re supremely uninterested in tackling an issue that holds a combination of scant rewards and great (perceived) political danger for them; and that they’re wheel spinning in place, waiting for the clock to wind down and praying that fluoridation doesn’t end on their watch. 

But time is running out. The whole nation, not just Austin, is waking up, and they may not get their wish.  

Meanwhile, if Spelman is laughing because…well…whatever that reason was he gave…then I just might be Whistler’s grandmother. 

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