Fracking opponents prevail

On the side

Well done, Jay: Congratulations to former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams for the president nominating him to head the U.S. Economic Development Administration, an agency that determines which economically-distressed communities — places like his hometown — will get millions of federal dollars to help with job creation.

His appointment is subject to Senate approval.

One amusing tidbit is the official White House statement failed to include that since June 8, 2012, he’s been deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which is based in the White House. Instead, it stated he’s been the director of the Department of Labor’s Office for Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, a job he had from August 2011 until getting the White House post over a year ago.

That White House error was repeated in a number of media outlets and by the offices of a couple of elected officials.

The reasons behind the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s last-minute decision to withdraw an objection a week ago to a citizen-organized charter amendment to ban fracking in Youngstown remain somewhat mysterious.

But it looks like the main reason was the Mahoning County Board of Elections was likely going to rule against the objection and for the chamber to force a hearing would only give amendment supporters a boost in their campaign.

Tony Paglia, the chamber’s vice president of government and media affairs, issued a statement with some contradictions the day the protest to the elections board was withdrawn. Since then, he has declined to discuss the decision further with me.

“I really have nothing else to say about the process at this time,” he wrote in a Wednesday email, adding that his remarks in the written press release last week speak for themselves.

Here is the first part of his prepared statement last week: “We strongly believe the board of elections has the ability and duty to prevent a misleading, poorly constructed and unenforceable charter amendment from going before the voters. However, moving forward with a protest would needlessly cloud this issue with concerns over board of elections conflicts of interests and board member recusals.”

If the board “has the ability and duty” to keep the amendment off the ballot, why would having a hearing “cloud this issue?”

Two elections board members — David Betras and Tracy Winbush — serve on a committee, organized in part by the chamber, that opposes the charter amendment, and Mark Munroe, the board’s chairman, urged fellow Republicans to support oil and gas drilling in opposition to an anti-fracking rally in July.

When I raised potential conflicts of interest a week earlier with Paglia, he defended the objectivity of the board members.

Paglia’s other quote in last week’s statement is: “The voters have already soundly rejected embedding this irrational language into the city charter [in a May vote.] Asking them to vote on the same issue again would be an incredible waste of government resources and time. That said, we are confident the voters will again reject this bad amendment.”

If having the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot “would be an incredible waste of government time and resources,” why not move ahead with the hearing?

“I think they were going to lose,” said Youngstown Law Director Anthony Farris, who doesn’t support the proposed amendment. “They would not have prevailed and it would have cast a bad light on them. They wouldn’t have issued that statement if they were going to win.”

The chamber was counting on the local board to rule the same as the Athens County Board of Elections on a ballot issue in the city of Athens for an anti-fracking ordinance. But in Youngstown, it’s a charter amendment proposal, which is entirely different than a proposed city ordinance, said Munroe, who is also the Mahoning County GOP chairman.

Before the chamber’s withdrawal of its protest, Munroe said he had a discussion with Paglia on differences between the two proposals and the law on boards of elections authority over such issues.

Also, Betras, the county’s Democratic Party chairman, said while he opposes the proposal, rejection of it should come from voters and not elections board members.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea,” he said. “It would give fodder for opponents.”

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