Mahoning elections board votes to keep Youngstown anti-fracking proposal off ballot
By David Skolnick
With the Mahoning County Board of Elections unanimously voting to keep a Youngstown anti-fracking charter amendment proposal off the Nov. 3 ballot, backers of the initiative are unsure of their next step.
“There could be a challenge, but I don’t know yet,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of FrackFree Mahoning Valley, the group that supported this proposal and four other similar anti-fracking initiatives. “This is uncharted territory.”
During a Wednesday special meeting, the board voted 4-0 not to certify the proposal to the ballot.
Board members said they largely based their decision on a Feb. 17 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court. That decision says the state constitution’s home-rule amendment doesn’t grant local governments the power to regulate oil and gas operations in their limits, and that Ohio law gives the state government – specifically the Department of Natural Resources – the exclusive authority to regulate oil and gas wells.
“I do not agree that the state of Ohio has taken away control from the city of Youngstown or any community, but we have to accept the judgment from the state’s highest court,” said David Betras, the board of election’s vice chairman and county Democratic Party chairman.
An Aug. 13 decision by Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, to remove anti-fracking proposals from the ballot in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties placed doubts the effort in Youngstown would survive.
But city officials have said the Supreme Court ruling and Husted’s decision didn’t impact the anti-fracking proposal. Based on the advice of Law Director Martin Hume, city council voted Monday to send it to the board of elections.
Also, board members said the county prosecutor told them to certify the proposal.
Board Chairman Mark Munroe, also the county Republican Party chairman, previously had said he was leaning toward voting to put the proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot but wanted to get input from the county prosecutor’s and Husted’s offices before making a final decision.
On Wednesday, Munroe said he initially believed the board had no flexibility about putting charter amendment proposals on the ballot even if they conflicted with state law. But he said he learned during a meeting a day earlier with secretary of state officials there were exceptions.
Munroe said voting for a ballot initiative that conflicts with state law is an exemption.
Both Betras and Munroe pointed to the Supreme Court decision from February that concludes: “We hold that the home rule amendment to the Ohio Constitution” does “not allow a municipality to discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct oil and gas activities and production operations that the state has permitted.”
Bill Padisak, a member of Voters for Ballot Integrity, which opposes the proposal, said, “I’m glad we don’t have to waste taxpayer dollars to put that on the ballot again. FrackFree Mahoning Valley needs to take their fight to the state. I hope this is the end.”
But FrackFree could mount a court challenge.
“What you have done is misstate the law,” said Lynn Anderson, a FrackFree member, to the board after the vote.
FrackFree needed at least 1,270 valid signatures to be eligible for the ballot. It turned in 1,832 signatures with 1,534 of them valid.
Similar proposals were rejected by city voters twice in 2013 and last year.