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Future murky for anti-fracking proposal

YOUNGSTOWN — Supporters of an anti-fracking charter amendment, rejected eight times by Youngstown voters since 2013, didn’t submit documentation to put it on the ballot this year and may not do so next year.

Organizers say they’re regrouping after failing to convince city voters that the issue is for their benefit.

But the future remains murky at best.

“I really don’t know if we’ll be back in 2020, but we’re definitely not giving up,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the committee that has supported the ballot issue and has used different names over the years. “We’re active in different ways. There’s a real change in the air with more people waking up and more activists visiting their legislators. We’re working on exposing the injustice and showing how important local control is.”

While language of the proposal has changed over the years, the charter amendment would have banned fracking in Youngstown and anything related to the extraction of fossil fuels in the city, as well as guarantee people’s right to clean water and air.

“We are so freakin’ tired,” said Lynn Anderson, another anti-fracking committee member. “We have begged people to help us. It’s horrifying to know all this is happening. I’ve spent so much time going door-to-door getting signatures and doing it with so few people. I haven’t given up, but where are the people standing with me? We have a small group, and we’re not getting help from others. We need people to stand up and get the facts. We want people to join us.”

Anderson said too much money has been spent against the charter amendments.

“It’s so sickening,” she said. “It’s endless money. What I’ve learned is, money is speech. I thought we had a democracy, but we have an oligarchy. It’s stacked against us.”

But those who have fought the charter amendments say they are relieved the issue isn’t on the ballot this year, and it should finally go away.

“This is way overdue,” said Nick Santucci, Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber’s director of government and public affairs, who was a member of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth, which opposed the anti-fracking proposals. “It’s time to put it to rest and work on pressing issues that impact the area. It’s been shot down time and time again. It’s time to move forward and get rid of this dark cloud.”

Santucci acknowledged that “a lot of money” has gone into fighting the charter amendments.

“It’s a constant battle with those who support this,” he said. “All the money and resources that go into it could be better put to use. The money invested to defeat it can be better used for economic projects.”

There were questions — including from the Ohio Supreme Court — about whether the charter amendment could be enforced if passed. State law gives jurisdiction over fracking to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

While there is no fracking going on in Youngstown, the proposals could have impacted fracking-related commerce if approved by voters.

“I wish they would drop it,” said Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council, who was also a coalition member. “It’s wasted money. It’s very frustrating. It’s against state law, it’s been rejected several times and there’s no fracking in the city. People want clean water, but they went about it the wrong way. Maybe they should go after the state about injection wells. They need to fight the state and not the local governments.”

The charter amendment has been rejected by city voters eight times: twice in 2013 and 2014, once in 2015 and 2016, and twice in 2018. The closest vote was in November 2015 when it lost by 2.5 percentage points.

The charter amendment was also the subject of two Ohio Supreme Court decisions.

In October 2017, the court ruled 4-3 to uphold the Mahoning County Board of Elections’ decision to keep it off the November 2017 ballot because the proposed charter amendment would have authorized “private citizens to enforce their rights through nonviolent direct action or by filing suit as a private attorney general.” The court determined that violated the state constitution.

In April 2018, the court ruled 5-2 that the board of elections exceeded its authority by rejecting a ballot measure. That proposal omitted the private citizen / private attorney general language. The court wrote that “the board offers no clear support for its conclusion that relators’ current proposal is beyond the scope of the city’s legislative power.”

It also wrote: “Although the proposed amendment would not necessarily be constitutional or legally enforceable if enacted, the board abused its discretion in finding that the measure exceeded Youngstown’s legislative power.”

dskolnick@tribtoday.com