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A group wants officials with Youngstown and the board of elections to keep anti-fracking proposal off ballot

Published: 7/9/15 @ 12:05


By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

A group of local labor leaders and business owners want officials with the city and the Mahoning County Board of Elections to keep a proposed anti-fracking charter amendment off the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Members of Voters for Ballot Integrity spoke Wednesday in opposition to the anti-fracking proposal, called the Community Bill of Rights by its supporters, that’s been rejected four times by city voters.

Proposal supporters are circulating petitions to put it on the ballot for the fifth time, and have more than a month to finish getting the needed signatures.

The ballot integrity group points to a Feb. 17 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court that 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 state law gives state government the exclusive authority to regulate oil and gas wells.

“We’re calling on the local board of elections and Youngstown leaders to prohibit this from the ballot,” said Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council, and a member of Voters for Ballot Integrity. “It’s time for this to stop.”

Though Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally opposes the anti-fracking proposal, he interprets the court ruling differently. He said it would violate the city charter and state constitution to not permit the measure to be on the ballot.

“If the folks who collect the signatures get enough of them, we have no choice,” McNally said.

“We respectfully disagree with the mayor on that,” said Butch Taylor, business manager for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396 and a Ballot Integrity member.

Mark Munroe, elections board chairman, said, “It would be inappropriate to reject this out of hand if petitions are filed.”

He also said the February court decision involved a municipal ordinance, and Youngstown’s is a citizen initiative.

“It’s not exactly apples-to-apples, but we’ll review what’s filed and consult with the [county] prosecutor’s office and the Secretary of State’s Office to see how that Supreme Court decision might affect how we process that paperwork.”

The ballot-integrity group is largely composed of the same participants in the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment that helped defeat the anti-fracking amendment twice in 2013 and two more times in 2014.

“They kept saying the area was going to get jobs from fracking, and they had to change their name because there are no fracking jobs,” said Lynn Anderson, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley that backs the amendment proposal. “It’s illegal to deny us access to the ballot. We have them shaking in their boots.”

State law gives control over fracking to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Opponents of the anti-fracking proposal say if it passes, it won’t be enforceable, but the issue will be the subject of litigation that could take Youngstown years to resolve.

If approved by voters, “this legislation has the ability to kill jobs in the area while it goes through the courts,” Padisak said. “The city would have to mount a legal challenge and pay money for that. It would be a huge cost.”

But Anderson said the proposal is about local control. “We’re trying to protect our drinking water, and we don’t want these state laws to stand. It should be decided locally,” she said.


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