City residents have right to decide on Bill of Rights

City residents have right to decide on Bill of Rights

It’s been a few years, but when I was in ninth grade, I learned that citizens could access direct democracy in this country through three avenues: initiative, referendum and recall. The most commonly used procedure, initiative, allowed us to affect public policy by proposing new legislation, getting it endorsed by a certain percentage of registered voters, and having it appear on the ballot for all voters to decide.

Evidently, the right of voter initiative is no longer a given of our democratic system.

The Board of Elections of Mahoning County will decide on Friday whether to allow citizens of Youngstown to vote on the Community Bill of Rights that would ban fracking and injection wells in the city. This proposed ordinance would be put before the voters on Nov. 5 because over 1,600 people thought the citizens of this city should have the opportunity to decide for ourselves about whether to risk the quality of our drinking water, the possibility of more earthquakes and the certain degradation of our environment.

You can argue about fracking and injection wells. But is it legitimate to have a debate about our fundamental right to vote on an issue of this magnitude? Where am I? Where are we, when a small group of powerful people and their corporate handlers can rip a voter initiative — a cornerstone of democracy — out from under us?

And who are these board of elections members who will make this decision on Friday at 5 p.m.? (Be there, folks.) Two of them, Tracey Winbush and David Betras, are members of the pro-fracking coalition that wants this Citizens Bill of Rights off the ballot. Will they recuse themselves? Evidently not, according to the Vindicator article of Aug. 31.

And since when do four members of the board of elections get to decide whether a proposed ordinance will stand up in a court of law? Shouldn’t that be decided after detailed and careful consideration by a panel of judges, once the initiative passes?

Do we or do we not, as citizens, have the right to determine our collective future? Yes, the Community Bill of Rights was defeated in the May primary — with only 17 percent of the electorate voting. Surely, we must have a better measure of public sentiment on an issue this important.

Jean Engle, Youngstown