City council will vote Monday to put an anti-fracking charter amendment proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot, and it appears the Mahoning County Board of Elections will do the same in a couple of weeks.
A decision last week by Secretary of State Jon Husted to remove anti-fracking charter amendment proposals in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties raised questions about what would happen in Youngstown, where four previous efforts to ban fracking in the city have failed.
City Law Director Martin Hume said last month an Ohio Supreme Court decision – that is cited by Husted in his recent decision – doesn’t apply to Youngstown. On Friday, after reading Husted’s ruling, Hume said his opinion hasn’t changed.
“In [Husted’s] opinion, he recognized there’s a different set of circumstances when it is a city council that’s been asked to put an issue on the ballot” compared with the county proposals, Hume said. “City council should send it to the [Mahoning County] board of elections, and then it’s up to the board of elections and the secretary of state to decide.”
In Husted’s Aug. 13 decision, he wrote: “The cases cited by petitioners [in those three counties] involved municipal legislative authorities reviewing municipal petitions,” and isn’t applicable to the counties.
A group of local labor leaders and business owners said last month that a Feb. 17 Ohio Supreme Court decision meant the Youngstown proposal was invalid. That decision stated the Ohio Constitution’s home-rule amendment doesn’t grant local governments the power to regulate oil and gas operations in their limits. State law gives that exclusive authority to state government, specifically the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Mahoning Valley Brawlers
It was that decision that Husted pointed to in disqualifying the three county proposals. Residents in those three counties filed a lawsuit Thursday against Husted seeking to reverse his decision.
Hume said to stop the anti-fracking proposal from getting on the ballot in Youngstown violates the city charter and state constitution, and the time to challenge its legality is after it’s certified.
Youngstown council has a special meeting Monday, immediately after a council finance committee meeting that’s to start at 4:30 p.m. At that meeting, council will vote to put the anti-fracking charter amendment on the general-election ballot.
FrackFree Mahoning Valley, which backs this amendment and the four others that failed, needed at least 1,122 valid signatures on their petitions to be eligible for the ballot. The group has more than 1,500 valid signatures, according to the elections board.
Mark Munroe, elections board chairman, said he needs to talk to the county prosecutor’s office and the secretary of state before the board can make a final decision. But, like Hume, he said the county proposals are different from “the citizen initiative to amend a municipal charter” in Youngstown, and “controlled by a different section of the Ohio Constitution.”
The board meets Sept. 8 and is expected to vote to certify the charter proposal to the ballot then.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the citizens of Youngstown have to endure this issue for a fifth time, but recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings and the Ohio Constitution set the rules for amending municipal charters, and we are bound to follow the law,” Munroe said. “This issue in Youngstown is much different than the one ruled on by Secretary Husted. We are looking forward to any additional advice from the county prosecutor and the secretary of state.”
Similar proposals in Youngstown failed twice in 2013 and 2014.