Mayor, Plumbers Oppose Community Bill of Rights

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For the fifth time in three years, the Community Bill of Rights, which seeks to ban drilling for oil and natural gas within city limits, will be on the ballot in November.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment – which includes Mayor John McNally, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, Local 396 of the Plumbers and Pipefitters union and the Community Mobilization Coalition – urged voters to again defeat the amendment.

“Those who would place this issue on the ballot for a fifth time are certainly well-intentioned, but I believe they’re trying to solve a problem that does not exist,” McNally said. “We have individuals involved in the oil and gas business in Youngstown who run perfectly fine businesses and operations and who employ city residents. I don’t want to see any of their business or employees negatively affected by the effects of this amendment.”

Tuesday also marked the beginning of the early and absentee voting period for the Nov. 5 elections, McNally noted.

Butch Taylor, business manager of Local 396, said that what the backers of the Community Bill of Rights are trying to accomplish – namely safe and clean air and water – has been achieved in the industry.

“We’ve always said that this legislation outreaches those procedures that they claim they’re trying to protect. The fact is that they could put many manufacturing jobs or businesses at risk to the point that they’d not relocate here or even move out of the area,” he said. “We’re not against protecting [water quality] — that’s what we stand for as the Plumbers and Pipefitters — but when you put overreaching legislation to prevent jobs, it affects everybody.”

McNally and Jaladah Aslam, vice chairwoman of the Community Mobilization Coalition and a board member of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO, noted the charter amendment is likely constitutional.

“There are other jurisdictions where [the Community Bill of Rights] has passed and where it’s been litigated it’s been overturned,” Aslam said. “We think the citizens would, for the fifth time, tell the proponents of this that enough is enough and that we need to use our tax dollars in a meaningful way.”

Should the initiative pass, McNally added, the city might file a suit, but noted that he doesn’t “think we’re going to get to that bridge, so we’re not going to have to cross it.”

What concerns McNally the most, he continued, is the “economic impact on companies that exist in Youngstown, in Mahoning County, in Trumbull County or in Columbiana County.

“This is not an issue that’s germane to the city of Youngstown. The Community Bill of Rights activists have tried this in other communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania,” he said. “This is a concerted effort by outside groups to control our chances at economic development in Mahoning County. That’s the most glaring reason I’m opposed to this now for the fifth time.”

Three supporters of the Community Bill Rights, all from FrackFree Mahoning Valley, who collected the signatures on petition to get the bill on the ballot, attended the press conference.

“This is a movement about saying, ‘We, the people of Youngstown, can decide what industries come here,’ ” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of FrackFree. “We are not against manufacturing – the bill of rights says if they’re making pipe, that’s fine – but we don’t want toxic, fracking, and radioactive waste in Youngstown. We don’t want drilling.”

The group is pursuing the amendment for the fifth time, she said, because “things change” every year.

“People say the landholders have a right to lease their land, but they don’t have the right to pollute the air and water. There are no bounds to pollution. It doesn’t just go up to your property line,” Beiersdorfer said. “There’s no one protecting us. The regulations are too lax and the oil and gas industry continues to get a pass. … We’re trying to keep democracy open and democracy in conversation.”

Pictured: Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment members Butch Taylor, business manager, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396; Marty Loney, director, piping industry progress and education, Local 396; Jaladah Aslam, vice-chairwoman, Community Mobilization Coalition; Youngstown Mayor John McNally; Guy Coviello, vice president of government affairs and media, Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber; and Tony Paglia, retired vice president, Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.