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Youngstown anti-fracking amendment has enough valid signatures

Published: Sat, August 31, 2013 @ 12:10 a.m.

By David Skolnick



Members of a group seeking to ban fracking in the city collected enough signatures for the charter amendment to be on the Nov. 5 ballot, but it could be tossed if the Mahoning County Board of Elections supports a protest not to certify the proposal.

The board will have a hearing at 5 p.m. Friday to determine the validity of the proposed charter amendment language.

The Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee, which is backing the amendment rejected by city voters in May, filed petitions with 2,450 signatures. It needs at least 1,562 valid signatures to be on the November ballot.

A count by elections board employees found 1,621 valid signatures — only 59 more than the minimum to be placed in front of voters.

But the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, a group that helped defeat a similar Youngstown anti-fracking amendment in May, hired Lavelle and Associates to challenge the legality of the proposal.

The Athens law firm successfully persuaded the Athens County Board of Elections earlier this month not to certify a similar citizen-organized proposal for the city of Athens’ November ballot. That success is why the firm was hired, said Tony Paglia, vice president of government affairs for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which is playing a role in coordinating the objection effort.

Lavelle was “the first one to do this, and they’ve already done the research,” Paglia said.

The Youngstown protest was filed on behalf of five city residents: George Popovich of East Florida Avenue, Tom Loney of Burma Drive, Rosemary Miller of West Indianola Avenue, Robert M. Ogden of Heather Lane and George Cintron of Greeley Lane.

Lavelle’s firm argued in Athens that the anti-fracking ballot proposal, with language similar to the Youngstown initiative, was too far-reaching and not enforceable since oil and gas drilling is controlled by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“The board is requested to conduct an evidentiary hearing and declare that the petition is not valid or sufficient and therefore refuse to certify it for the fall 2013 election ballot,” wrote Robert R. Rittenhouse, an attorney with the Lavelle firm who filed the protest with the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

Two board members — Vice Chairman David Betras, who also is the head of the county Democratic Party, and Republican Tracey Winbush — are members of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, and have publicly urged voters to reject the anti-fracking amendment in May and for people not to sign petitions to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Board Chairman Mark Munroe, who also is the county’s GOP chairman, had asked fellow Republicans to support oil and gas drilling in opposition to an anti-fracking rally in Warren in late July.

“There are concerns” about conflicts with board of elections members, said Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee. “We know Tracey Winbush and Betras are part of the board of elections and the [coalition] and the coalition hired this firm. This [protest] is an outrage to the Youngstown community. This attempt to suppress the democratic process and our fundamental right to vote is unacceptable.”

But board of elections members say just because they don’t support the anti-fracking proposal doesn’t mean they won’t be objective at next week’s hearing.

“It’s not about my personal feelings,” Winbush said. “This is about filing a protest, hearing both sides and making a decision on what is presented. I have to be impartial despite my opinion on this subject.”

“When we meet as a board, we’re required to take our political hats off and abide by our oath to uphold state law,” Munroe said. “We have done that before. We deal with political issues often. If I have to disqualify a Republican for violations of elections law, then I do so. This is no different. It’s not a hearing on whether the board members think this is a good idea or a bad idea. It’s about whether this complies with state law.”

In Athens County, one elections board member recused herself because she signed a petition in support of banning fracking before she was selected to serve on the body.

“Signing petitions shouldn’t be grounds to recuse yourself,” Munroe said. “Circulating petitions could be a problem or serving as treasurer of a candidate’s campaign committee.”

Youngstown voters rejected a similar charter amendment in May, 56.85 percent to 43.15 percent.

The bill of rights committee will have its second public town-hall-style hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m. Thursday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, 1105 Elm St.


1bmanresident(607 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Well, these hippies just don't stop. How did they gather those signatures? Did they drive in their fossil-fueled cars and use their fossil-fueled Mac computers to push this agenda?

Live the energy free life of toileting in the woods and off the grid and do us all a favor.

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2BAS(2 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

With all the news AND science out now on the risks of Fracking it is simple to STOP, go back to the table and remember what everyone said...."It must be done right" Well it's not being done right and the risks are proving to outweigh any benefits. The industry has come out with a paper themselves that said, "Leaking well casings can't be fixed" That should be enough for people to understand that there is plenty of manufacturing, trucking, installation and profit to be made from an energy source that is good for the entire planet. Solar energy is becoming the main source of energy in Germany. Just google Germany and solar energy. The facts and proof is there......One problem, the big CEO's of the O&G companies running this country will not make money. The people will and who wants that????

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3BAS(2 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

If you still believe fracking is good for the country read this. And there are hundreds of more articles that show us this is a BAD idea.

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4RustOnMyBelt(172 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

REV 8 :10-11

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5southsidedave(5199 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Fracking is here to stay, deal with it...

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6kurtw(1822 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

OK, I looked up solar energy production in Germany. Last year roughly 4% of the electricity produced in that country came from solar. 4 per cent. The Germans hope- eventually- to reach the 35 per cent level.

That's a far cry from saying: "solar is becoming the main source of energy in Germany". It will never happen even if the German estimate is correct.

Nuclear is a far better bet. France produces 75 per cent of its electricity by splitting atoms- with an extremely high safety record- and the lowest carbon emissions of any country in the world. 75 per cent, while the U.S. electricity production from nuclear is only 19 per cent

But of course, the Lefto extremists don't like nuclear either. Because of them the U.S. Nuclear Energy program has ground to a halt-we haven't built a reactor in thirty years- and all that means is that we use more coal.

But, of course, that gives people like Susie B. and her friends at the Unitarian Chapel more to bitch about (it's the rest of us that suffer).

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7Cubbies(37 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Betras and Winbush will be objective?

When hell freezes over....

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8jonnyquest(20 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

I live in Youngstown. I signed the petition. I don't want a fracking rig next to my house. Go out into the country and frack. Don't frack in an urban area. I've done enough reading to believe that fracking is not good for the environment. Our water, our air, and the very land we stand on is at risk. But desperate people refuse to see that when the possibility of jobs and profit is there. The democratic process is even at risk as those desperate people shout down logic with name calling. Thank goodness a citizen like Suzie Beirsdorpher has the guts to stand up to the powers of government as risky energy policies are forced upon us.

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