No amount of window dressing can hide the fact that the self-absorbed proponents of an anti-fracking charter amendment are still trying to pull a fast one on the people of Youngstown.
Despite being rejected six times by the city’s voters, the advocates of the unenforceable scheme are trying to make another bid at the polls this November.
The premise of the anti-fracking proposal is just as foolhardy today as it was when it was first placed on the ballot. The effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city of Youngstown is legally unenforceable under current Ohio statutes.
Even if the charter amendment is approved in November because of the sweetener that has been included, the courts would strike it down. That’s because the Ohio Constitution gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources exclusive authority to oversee the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from beneath the earth’s surface.
In addition, as organized opposition from the business and labor communities has repeatedly pointed out, other aspects of the anti-fracking measure could threaten jobs tied to the drilling industry in the city, including hundreds at Vallourec Star.
And practically speaking, the measure has no viable application. As Mayor John McNally has noted time and time again, no company has any serious plans to drill for oil or gas within city limits.
What’s the sweetener in the proposed charter amendment that’s designed to tug at taxpayers’ purse strings?
It would restrict city government from using water and wastewater money for economic development projects.
This is a cynical attempt by the proponents to win voter approval for their anti-fracking charter push – after voters rejected them twice in 2013 and 2014 and once in 2015 and 2016.
To be sure, there are important questions being asked in the community about the use of money from the water department for development projects. The one asked most often, especially by older city residents, is this: If there is a surplus in the water and wastewater funds, why aren’t customers receiving a rate reduction?
Indeed, a lawsuit filed by four water customers challenging the use of the money for activities not directly related to the water department could provide much needed clarity.
In addition, the state is investigating a major downtown developer, NYO Property Group, which received subsidies from the city for three projects. A total of $2.27 million in water/wastewater funds went to NYO Group.
Mayor McNally rightly points out that this practice has been going on in the city for many years and that prohibiting the use of water department money would hamstring the economic development effort.
Since 2009, City Hall has used about $8 million from the two funds for development projects.
But as we noted previously, the water department issue is a red herring. What the proponents of the anti-fracking charter amendment are trying to do is distract voters.
Last November, they thought they could benefit from the presidential election by placing the so-called Community Bill of Rights on the ballot in Youngstown – for the sixth time.
Some 22,000 voters in the city had their say on the matter, the largest chunk of the electorate in Youngstown since the measure first appeared in 2013.
However, the proposed charter amendment went down in flames – by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent.
Nonetheless, FrackFree Mahoning Valley organizers vowed to press on. They had talked about placing the issue on last month’s primary election ballot, but didn’t make it.
Now, however, they are aiming for November, and once again we will join city leaders, labor groups, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and other entities in urging a “no” vote.
As we said in an editorial following the November 2016 general election, we’re confident a majority of Youngstowners will continue to push back against this exercise in self-aggrandizement.
The proponents of the anti-fracking charter amendment should not be rewarded for refusing to respect the will of the people.
And they certainly should not get away with pulling the wool over the eyes of the voters by including the water department issue in the amendment.