Hawke's Bay District Health Board chief executive Dr Kevin Snee is making no apologies after stomping, forcefully removing and attempting to smash anti-fluoride protest signs at a public meeting yesterday.
Before the board-organised public meeting began in Havelock North at 2pm, a Hawke's Bay Today reporter witnessed Dr Snee removing anti-fluoride signs displayed outside the Havelock North Community Centre, where the meeting was scheduled to take place.
He tossed the stakes around the lawn before attempting to bend and break the placards over his knee and then stomping on them.
Fluoride Action Network New Zealand member Mary Byrne confronted Dr Snee as he was removing the placards but he walked inside the community building smiling and waving.
"He just came and started standing on them," she said, picking up the signs. "He has no right to go and vandalise them.
"How would he like it if we did that to his ones? If you do that sort of stuff to an election sign it's considered vandalism - now he's come out there and wrecked our signs."
When asked by Hawke's Bay Today why he removed the signs in such a forceful manner, Dr Snee replied: "It's hard to take things out of the ground without being forceful.
"They had no right to be there in the first place," he added.
"This is our meeting - I was just getting them out of the way."
Dr Snee said the DHB felt very strongly about fluoridation, particularly how it affected the local Maori population.
Fluoride Free Hastings spokesperson Angelina Hair was visibly shocked by Dr Snee's actions and said she hoped people had witnessed the incident.
Dr Snee said he simply wanted to conduct the meeting "without the carry-on and nonsense of the anti-fluoride brigade".
Following the meeting he approached Hawke's Bay Today and questioned the reporter on what would be reported.
Later he phoned the paper and said he would make no apologies for his actions on an issue he felt "passionate" about. He said he was trying to fold the signs into a pile.
The incident came just just 50 minutes after a public meeting held at the same venue by Fluoride Free Hastings.
Ms Hair has previously told Hawke's Bay Today the health board had refused to allow the anti-fluoride group to speak at their meetings.
Throughout the board meeting, questions continued to be directed at Dr Snee by members of the public, asking him to explain why he had "damaged" the anti-fluoride signs.
Central Hawke's Bay dentist Dr John Jukes, who spoke at the Fluoride Free Hastings meeting early, said to Dr Snee: "I believe I saw you damaging the posters out front."
Dr Snee simply replied: "They had no right to be there," which sparked jeers from Fluoride Free Hastings supporters.
In October, as part of the local body elections, voters in Havelock North, Hastings and Flaxmere will be asked to decide if fluoride will continue to be added to the Hastings water supply.
The panel comprised Hawke's Bay District Health Board director of oral health Dr Robin Whyman and Children's Commissioner for New Zealand Dr Russell Wills.
Dr Wills said the health board favoured continuing to have fluoridated water because it was a health benefit for the disadvantaged children in the community.
"We feel the children have a right to the best health outcome and if their parents cannot help them they should not have that right removed.
"The advantage for disadvantaged children outweighs the right to choose," he said.
One man stood up and questioned the panel:
"My mokopuna would be better off if you said we will get rid of all the Coke and all the lollies. That would be better for their teeth - my mokopuna don't have toothpaste and a brush is the fluoride enough to clean his teeth. If it's not, then why is it in there?"
The panel said it was not enough but oral hygiene programmes were in place to encourage children to brush their teeth.
Members of the public in favour of keeping fluoride included a local dentist who said she favoured it after seeing first-hand the effects of tooth decay in children. "We have no other affordable way to protect kids from tooth decay, this is all we can do."
Dr Whyman said: "We don't diminish the importance of diet and lifestyle choices when it come to tooth decay. But it [fluoride] works. The health benefits outweigh any potential risks."