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Youngstown voters reject anti-fracking amendment again

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

By David Skolnick


For the second time this year, Youngstown voters rejected a citizen-initiative charter amendment to ban fracking in the city.

But supporters of the proposal that failed Tuesday and in the May primary said they’ll be back for a third time next year.

“We’re going again,” said Lynn Anderson, a member of the Community Bill of Rights Committee, the lead group supporting the ban.

“This will not stop. We have to save our lives, our air and our water. We’ll keep putting it on the ballot until it passes.”

Also, Youngstown voters overwhelmingly supported a charter amendment, put on the ballot by city council, to eliminate the park and recreation commission, created in 1935. It was defeated 64.2 percent to 35.8 percent Tuesday, according to unofficial results from the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

The Community Bill of Rights Committee was greatly outspent by opponents to the proposed charter amendment. Between June 8 and Oct. 16, the most recent finance reporting period, the committee spent $693 compared with $74,449 by the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396, the organization funding the successful effort to defeat the amendment.

“This amendment was a jobs killer,” said Butch Taylor, the union’s business manager.

In May, the anti-fracking charter amendment failed by 13.7 percentage points compared with 9.7 percentage points Tuesday. But there were 6,749 votes on this issue in May. There were 10,506 on this issue in this election, according to unofficial results.

“This is two-consecutive decisive victories in support of these [fracking] jobs and this investment,” said Mike Chadsey, spokesman for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. “My hope is it sends a message” to opponents.

Susie Beiersdorfer, a Community Bill of Rights Committee member, said, “We’ll continue on. It will be back in some form or another. We’re not quitting. We’re coming back.”

Tom Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which helped create the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, a group opposed to the amendment, said, “The voters have spoken twice and they are clear. It sends a good message to the [oil and gas] industry that the community understands the importance of this opportunity to grow our economy. It’s more than the drilling; it’s the supply chain that goes along with it.”

Attorney Alan Wenger, a coalition member and chairman of the oil and gas group at the Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell law firm, said the language on the proposed amendment wasn’t constitutional as it conflicts with state law. But he added that a case likely to be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court on the issue should clear up any confusion regarding a city’s right to supercede state law.

“These folks are very ardent and sincere in their concerns, but I feel the law is very flawed,” he said.

Also Tuesday, Youngstown voters approved a charter amendment to get rid of the five-person park and recreation committee.

There’s been long-standing tension between the commission members, who aren’t paid for their services, and city council and the administration.

City voters in November 2007 approved charter amendments that stripped the power of the commission to hire park employees except the director, and required all commission contracts and purchases to be approved by city council and the board of control.

City council members said the commission had become a hindrance to the effectiveness of the park and recreation department. Commission members complained that city council and the administration had enough to handle in the rest of the city and don’t need to run the park and recreation department.

“I never felt we needed a park board,” said Mayor Charles Sammarone, elected council president Tuesday.