Drilling Down

‘Ballot Integrity’ Opposes Fifth Vote on Fracking

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Four times is more than enough for the Youngstown electorate to voice its opinion on the same issue in the voting booth. That’s the case area labor unions and business owners presented Wednesday morning outside the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

The labor leaders and business owners call themselves Voters for Ballot Integrity. The advocacy group wants to stop FrackFree Mahoning Valley from placing a charter amendment on the city’s November ballot that would ban hydraulic fracturing within city limits. It officially formed Wednesday, Bill Padisak said.

Padisak is president of the AFL-CIO Council of Mahoning and Trumbull Counties.

The new advocacy group’s composition and mission mirrors another advocacy group, the Mahoning Valley Coalition on Job Growth, formed by the Regional Chamber in 2013 to campaign against the Community Bill of Rights ballot initiative proposed by FrackFree Mahoning Valley.
Over the past four years, the Community Bill of Rights has been defeated by increasing margins. In the most recent election, the margin was 16%, Padisak noted.

“Our concern is that this is costing the taxpayers of Youngstown a lot of money,” he said at the press event. “It’s time for this to stop. I’m an environmentalist. I believe in responsible environmental controls. But this is not the way to do it. They need to take their fight to the state because that’s who controls this legislation.”

An Ohio Supreme Court decision in February ruled that municipal ordinances must defer to state statutes if, among other reasons, the municipal statute or ordinance conflicts with state law. This, Padisak argued, means that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, not the city, is the entity that decides who can drill for natural gas and where.

“Therefore, there is no point in putting this on the ballot yet again,” he said. “We’re calling on the board of elections and local leaders to do everything they can to stop this from being put back on the ballot and wasting more money.”

The cost, he estimated, has been about $50,000 so far and includes paying board of elections staff to review petitions and the legal advertisements required for all ballot proposals.

Bob Smith, co-owner of Camelot Lanes in Boardman and a member of Voters for Ballot Integrity, said the money spent putting the Community Bill of Rights on the ballot would be better spent.

“This could be money that could be used to fix potholes or improve our roads,” Smith said. “I’m concerned, as a small-businessman, that we could have all the appropriate permits and do everything by the letter of the law, but there could be a few people who come in and stop jobs because it’s against what they want to be done.”

The Voters for Ballot Integrity website calls the petition a “job-killing agenda,” which Padisak reiterated during the press conference.

“I have members of the skilled trades [unions] who do everything they can to bring jobs to our Valley,” he said. “This kind of legislation could hurt the work they do and the money they bring to this community.”

Five members of FrackFree Mahoning Valley, the group behind putting the Bill of Rights on the ballot, were at the press event.

“Regardless of cost accrued, the people have a right to gather petitions and put things on the ballot. That’s part of participatory democracy, which is central to our nation,” said Jim Villani, a member of FrackFree. “Prior defeats do not mean permanency. People learn and change their minds.”

Padisak agreed and said the Voters for Ballot Integrity’s purpose isn’t to keep a proper petition off the ballot, but to inform voters that the issue shouldn’t be on the ballot.

“ODNR is what controls fracking, drilling and disposal of waste products in Ohio. The city doesn’t have that control,” he said. “I think the dialogue here is good, but state Legislature needs to make sure the residents of Ohio are protected, not the city of Youngstown.

FrackFree is close to obtaining the signatures required to submit the petition to the board for review for the November election, Villani said, and will continue collecting signatures.

“Now that there is a group that’s identifiable on the other side, we will come up materials and answers for our opposition, explaining why we think this is a benefit to the community, even if there is cost involved,” he said.

Pictured: Members of Voters for Ballot Integrity gather for a press event outside the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.