Thursday, March 8, 2018
By David Skolnick
City council voted to forward a citizens initiative to ban fracking in Youngstown to the May 8 ballot, but it’s far from a certainty the proposal will be in front of voters.
The Mahoning County Board of Elections will meet Tuesday to decide if it will put the measure on the ballot.
The board rejected a similar proposal for the November 2017 ballot, and that decision was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court.
City council members said Wednesday they voted in favor of putting the measure on the ballot because their decision is strictly procedural, and they don’t have a choice but to approve it and let the elections board decide.
Similar ballot initiatives have been rejected six previous times by voters dating back to 2013.
“We’re required to move this to the board of elections, but it’s been in front of voters six times and they spoke,” said Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th. “The law requires we move it to the board. If it wasn’t required, I would vote against it.”
Other council members had similar comments.
“The voters have spoken six times,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th. “It’s a state issue. I would encourage the group [backing the measure] to try to change the state law. I understand and appreciate their compassion. But from our perspective, it’s not an enforceable law by the city. We have no local control. They’re petitioning the wrong people.”
State law gives jurisdiction over fracking to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st, said the proposal’s backers “have the right to put it on again,” but it’s been rejected every time it’s been in front of voters.
In its decision last October, the board leaned heavily on a then new law, House Bill 463, which requires boards of elections to invalidate local initiative petitions if they determine any part of the petition falls outside a local government’s constitutional authority to enact them.
In its 4-3 ruling agreeing with the board of elections, the Ohio Supreme Court relied only on case law, primarily a decision called “Sensible Norwood” in which the Hamilton County Board of Elections refused to certify a citizens proposal in the city of Norwood to decriminalize marijuana.
In a separate decision shortly after the Youngstown one, the Supreme Court ruled House Bill 463 was unconstitutional.