Debate is raging about whether to allow members of the Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group to set up camp at a public "health fair" scheduled for next Wednesday in which Fridley residents will be able to pose questions about the city’s water testing, Superfund sites and cancer rates.
During the fair, which will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fridley Community Center Gymnasium, officials from the City of Fridley, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be available to speak one-on-one with members of the public. Officials from the Anoka County Public Health, the American Lung Association, the Mercy and Unity Hospitals Wellness Program, and the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute have also been invited to set up tables at the fair.
Cluster Group Too?
But city and state officials cannot agree on whether to allow members of the Facebook group to set up a booth and answer questions.
“I feel this is our opportunity with the Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to explain our side of things to the general public, and I’m not sure that having the Cancer Cluster group there fulfills that goal,” Fridley City Manager Bill Burns said. “I think the city should avoid any kind of back-and-forth argumentation with that group and that’s not the purpose of our health fair—I don’t want to compete with them.”
Burns told Pam Reynolds, a Cancer Cluster group member, that she could not represent the group at the health fair.
The MPCA hasn’t taken as hard a line against the Cancer Cluster group’s official attendance. Spokesman Sam Brungardt said he thought it could be acceptable to have Jason McCarty, the group’s founder, or an “appointed representative” manning a table. (McCarty will be out of town that day.)
But Brungardt said the MPCA would also not allow Reynolds to represent the Cancer Cluster group at the fair because she's "running for office."
Reynolds, twice an unsuccesful candidate for mayor of Fridley, did not file as a candidate for mayor this year. She said in an email Thursday that she tells past supporters, "'Hey you can always write me in.' ... It doesn't mean I'm running a campaign."
The health fair is no place for electoral politics, according to MPCA's Brungart. “The purpose of the health fair is to have Fridley residents’ questions answered by officials,” he said. “Its purpose is not for providing a forum for people running for office.”
The General Public
Burns, the Fridley city manager, said Mayor Scott Lund and most city council members will likely be in attendance at the health fair, but noted that if the MPCA or MDH decide to allow Cancer Cluster members to set up a table at the fair, he would “consider our options”—repeating that the fair is designed “for the general public.”
Reynolds said that even if she were an official candidate, she did not think that fact should preclude her participation in the health fair as a member of the Fridley Cancer Cluster.
"Funny the mayor is allowed to participate in his various community involvements without being accused of using them to launch his campaign or further his political aspirations," she said.
McCarty, the Cancer Cluster Facebook group founder, agreed with this sentiment.
"If the mayor has a table, wouldn't it be fair to also let Pam have one?" he said.
Reynolds said she will be in attendance at the health fair, though not in an official capacity, and she believes the Facebook Cancer Cluster group will make another attempt for a table at the fair.
Brungardt said the idea for the fair came out of a meeting convened by state Sen. Barb Goodwin at the Minnesota Capitol in mid-July and the discussion at that meeting about the need to better educate citizens about how city, county and state agencies address public health concerns.
“Coming out of that legislative meeting, there were some suggestions about a need to make ourselves available to the public if people had questions about cancer or the drinking water in Fridley,” Brungardt said.