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Anti-frackers in Y’town keep tilting at windmills

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A group of self-appointed guardians of Youngstown are at it again, pushing an amendment to the city’s home-rule charter that is clearly unconstitutional.

Sensible Youngstown voters rejected the issue six times, and the Ohio Supreme Court made sure the so-called Community Bill of Rights wasn’t on the ballot last year.

But the anti-frackers, led by Ray and Susie Beiersdorfer, won’t take “no” for an answer. They’re going back to the high court in the belief that last year’s 4-3 vote is an indication that the justices can be swayed to rule in their favor.

Given our long-standing opposition to the charter amendment because it is nothing more than an exercise in futility, we urge the court to issue an unequivocal opinion.

It’s time to send the anti-frackers a clear message that their effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city of Youngstown is misguided and unconstitutional.

The Ohio Constitution gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources exclusive authority to oversee the fracking process to extract oil and gas from beneath the earth’s surface.

Organized opposition from the business and labor communities has centered on the practical aspect of the so-called bill of rights. Jobs tied to the drilling industry in the city, including hundreds at Vallourec Star, would be threatened.

The amendment is also without foundation because there are no companies with serious plans to drill for oil and gas within the city limits. That’s why we have dismissed the committee’s numerous attempts to win over the electorate as nothing more than self-aggrandizing.

But the Beiersdorfers and their colleagues remain undaunted, despite the fact that the last time the issue was on the ballot in 2016, 22,000 city voters had their say on the matter. It was the largest response by the electorate, and the result was clear: 55 percent voted against the anti-fracking charter amendment.

Primary ballot

But the opinion of the voters obviously does not matter to the anti-frackers who want the issue to appear on the May 8 primary ballot.

However, the four members of the Mahoning County Board of Elections have voted unanimously to keep the initiative off the ballot – just as they did last year.

The two Republicans and two Democrats based their decision on a state law that requires boards of elections to invalidate local initiative petitions if they determine that any part of the petition falls outside the constitutional authority of local government to enact it.

In rejecting the appeal filed last year by the anti-frackers, the justices of the Supreme Court relied on case law and did not deal with the constitutionality of House Bill 463.

We would hope the justices do take up the constitutional question if the proposed Youngstown charter amendment is placed before the court.

“We’re not quitting. We’re not going away,” said Susie Beiersdorfer after the board of elections refused to approve the issue for the ballot. “This isn’t a fracking problem. It’s a democracy problem.”

Her husband, Ray, wasn’t as grandiose in his reason for pursuing the case.

“You’re trying to keep it off the ballot because it’s going to win, because there’s concern about the drinking water,” he told the board of elections members.

Who’s concerned? Certainly not the voters who rejected the charter amendment six times.

A lawyer representing the Committee for the Youngstown Water Protection Bill of Rights provided some insight into the arguments that would be made in the Supreme Court.

“There is absolutely no reason that this board should disallow this petition be submitted to the voters of Youngstown,” said Atty. Jensen E. Silvis of Akron. “In fact, it would not only be in total disregard for our democratic system that demands the rights to initiative and self-government, but unconstitutional and illegal under the most recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings.”

The anti-frackers went before the voters six times and were rejected six times. They have not been deprived of their rights to initiative.

We urge the Ohio Supreme Court to provide the legal clarity that residents of Youngstown deserve.

But should the court decide that the board of elections overstepped its authority in rejecting the anti-fracking ballot issue, we will continue to urge a “no” vote by residents of Youngstown.

We see no reason for the community bill of rights other than to make the self-appointed paragons of environmental virtue feel good.