City Seeks Court Ruling to Put Fracking Up for 5th Vote

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The four members of the Mahoning County Board of Elections unanimous decision to keep an anti-fracking charter amendment off the November ballot “is unconstitutional, arbitrary, illegal and an abuse of discretion,” the city argues in a complaint filed Friday in the Ohio Supreme Court.

The city said it wants the court to issue a “writ of mandamus to compel the Mahoning County Board of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to place the proposed charter amendment commonly known as the Community Bill of Rights on the Nov. 3, 2015, ballot for consideration by the voters of Youngstown.”

In a news release announcing the legal action, Mayor John A. McNally and the city’s law director, Martin S. Hume, stipulated the complaint “was not an endorsement of the content of the proposal. Rather, the complaint seeks to vindicate the proposition that citizens should have the right to petition the government in accordance with Youngstown’s Home Rule Charter and the constitutions of the United State and the state of Ohio. The complaint is based on the well-established legal principle that determination of the constitutionality of laws is exclusively reserved to the judiciary and even then, a court should not rule on the constitutionality of a proposed charter amendment until after the amendment has been passed.”

The charter amendment, which would ban hydraulic fracturing inside city limits, was soundly defeated four times, and a business and labor group mobilized this spring to argue against another vote.

On Aug. 3, FrackFree Mahoning Valley submitted more than required amount of signatures to place the charter amendment on the ballot for the fifth time. Ten days later Husted ruled in favor of protests filed with his office that questioned the validity of county charter ballot proposals in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties.

As part of his decision, Husted said the ballot questions in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties relating to oil and gas exploration represented an attempt to circumvent state law in a manner the courts have already found to be in violation of the Ohio Constitution.

“The issue of whether local communities can get around state laws on fracking has already been litigated,” Husted said. “Allowing these proposals to proceed will only serve a false promise that wastes taxpayer’s time and money and will eventually end in sending the charters to certain death in the courts.”

Youngstown City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Aug. 24 directing that FrackFree Mahoning County’s proposed charter amendment be forwarded to the Mahoning County Board of Elections and be placed on the ballot.

The elections board voted Aug. 26 to deny ballot access “despite the advice of the Mahoning County prosecutor’s office that the board had a mandatory duty to place it on the ballot, the city said.

The complaint was filed as an expedited election matter in accordance with the Ohio Supreme Court’s rules and “therefore it is expected that the court will take prompt action,” the city said.

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Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.