CELDF’s Failed Community Bill of Rights Cost Youngstown Voters Tens of Thousands of Dollars
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) continues to peddle its so-called Community Bill of Rights ballot initiatives to municipalities across the country, with no regard for the taxpayers that have to foot the hefty bills left in the group’s agenda-driven wake. In Youngstown alone, voters have rejected the Community Bill of Rights five consecutive times, costing taxpayers (so far) at least $80,000. What’s worse is CEDLF is far from finished with Youngstown, as the organization has already begun to circulate petitions for its 6th ballot measure for the city, and has threatened to do so up to “43 times” if necessary. If that threat is realized, it would cost the taxpayers in Youngstown over $600,000!
EID recently looked at the cost to taxpayers each time CELDF has managed to get its Community Bill of Rights on Youngstown’s ballot and found that regardless of the outcome, just having the measure on the ballot costs the city more than $16,000, according to the Board of Elections and the City of Youngstown Clerk. Given this, it’s no surprise that this ballot measure was the fifth most expensive out of the 52 total in Mahoning County last year. And these latest efforts come in the wake of a 2016 City of Youngstown budget that includes a fall off of income tax revenues, which has forced elected officials to delay projects and will require the use of scarce resources to pay for yet another failed CELDF ballot measure. WKBN reporter, Gerry Riccuitti, said it best,
“So it’s fear in the minds of some that a very small minority can hold the rest of the city hostage.”
So how is it that CEDLF can initiate these ballot measures, but then the taxpayers of the City of Youngstown end up having to pay for them? Well, every time CELDF circulates petitions to place its so-called Community Bill of Rights on the City of Youngstown ballot, it triggers certain requirements by both the county and city charters. These requirements include things like the costs of the printing required for each ballot, funds to pay staff to count the votes, and advertising for the measure. All in all, last November, as municipalities all over Mahoning County were voting on measures like the renewals of various local operating budgets, Youngstown had to shell out $14,154.59 plus an additional $2,000 in advertising costs just for the Community Bill of Rights ballot measure—for the fifth time.
This is what democracy looks like, at least according to CEDLF
Needless to say, local residents are really getting sick of this abuse as is evident in the following interaction between a Youngstown news reporter and a Frack Free Mahoning Valley member:
In fact Mahoning Valley residents, including the City’s own mayor, have said,
“The residents of the city are tired of hearing about this issue.”
Further, even the Youngstown paper, the Vindicator has said,
“Thus, we have no qualms about telling the bunch of self-righteous, self- important individuals who are pushing an anti-fracking charter amendment in the city of Youngstown to please go away…In the past two years, we have used every argument we could think of to show why the bill of rights is absolutely wrong for the city.” (emphasis added)
This is all pretty ironic given that CELDF claims people have the “right to self-govern.” CEDLF’s Ben Price has not only said, “We don’t’ have a fracking problem, we have a democracy problem,” but has also been quoted stating, “if that’s their decision of the community, that’s their self-governing decision.”
Speaking to oil and gas development in general in Ohio, another CEDLF representative and anti-fracking activist, Tish O’Dell also claimed that Ohioans did not have a vote on hydraulic fracturing or oil and gas development. As she said, “Make no mistake, there was no democracy at play here, there was no vote by people.”
Apparently that right to “self-govern” and a “vote by the people” only holds any water when CELDF agrees with the decision made by the local community, not when the majority has spoken five consecutive times and had to waste over $80,000 doing so.
Yet despite that, groups like CEDLF and Frack Free Mahoning Valley still claim this measure is the will of the people. And at the end of the day, it’s not just about fracking, as activist, Susie Biersdorfer, essentially admitted,
“This is a movement about saying we, the people, in the cities of Youngstown can decide what industries come in here.”
In other words, the real goal of the measure is to allow “the people” to oust any business that isn’t liked, which is certainly consistent with CELDF’s overarching mission to ban any kind of industry they want, as stated by CELDF founder, Thomas Linzey,
“If you are going to put all that work into a ballot initiative, why not do a ballot initiative that bans all finance companies in New York City from funding new projects that exacerbate climate change? Why not do something real…why not do something real…cause people are saying to themselves, ‘it would be illegal, it would be unlawful, it would be unconstitutional, because you are taking their property’ well..(expletive), it’s time.”
But as CEDLF has demonstrated with its continued efforts in Youngstown, it doesn’t really matter what the majority wants at the end of the day. Just take a look at this meeting where Price and his colleagues explain how they’d like things to run:
Meeting attendee: “Ben was nice enough to say we’re gonna make decisions in here that the rest of the community will just have to live with.”
Ben Price: “It’s how it’s done!”
Meeting attendee: “We laugh about it, but sadly it’s how it’s done.”
No, unfortunately, at the end of the day, CEDLF has shown that it has no regard for the taxpayers of Youngstown—they are just pawns in a bigger anti-development agenda. As Mayor McNally said,
“I do think it’s a larger issue than just the City of Youngstown. The folks that are involved, the folks that drafted it are all out of state folks that are pushing an agenda…that is detrimental to the City of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. This is not just an issue that is germane to the City of Youngstown. The Community Bill of Rights advocates have tried these issues in other cities in Ohio; they have tried them in Pennsylvania as well. I don’t think yet they have ever been to be enforceable issues. This is a concerted effort by outside interest groups to control our chances at economic development in the City of Youngstown, and Mahoning County. I think that this the most glaring reason why I am opposed to this legislation.” (emphasis added)
When Democracy Fails, CEDLF Claims Fraud
So instead of following the group’s own rhetoric on Democracy, and being unable to explain yet another crushing defeat, CELDF hit new lows last year when the group cited a push-poll and accused the Mahoning Count Board of Election of foul play. Mahoning County Board of Election Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Mahoning County Democrat Party David Betras responded this way:
“You just basically accused this board of elections of election fraud. I can’t help it if some rinky-dink polling company did a poll for you and the results are different. This is just ridiculous. I’m not going to let you impugn the integrity of this board and our staff. I find it highly offensive you’d accuse me of a crime.”
After this accusation, CELDF forced a recount (by hand) of the votes, which was the first time in more than 20 years Mahoning County has recounted paper ballots. The results only confirmed that indeed the measure failed—for the fifth time—and were yet another waste of money thanks to CEDLF.
Parents, elected official, labor leaders, and statewide groups all across Ohio have already sounded off against CELDF and have made their voices heard to the Ohio Supreme Court representing hundreds of thousands of taxpayers, job-creators, laborers, and elected officials. After the numerous CELDF failures in Youngstown, one would think that voters have spoken on this issue enough. As the local paper rightfully pointed out,
“A reasonable person — with emphasis on the word reasonable— would conclude, therefore, that the outcome of the general election should be the final word on this self-serving issue. After all, the people have spoken, over and over. But the Beiersdorfer’s and others, who are determined to save us from ourselves, continue to believe they represent a majority of the residents of the city — despite evidence to the contrary.”
As more and more communities are learning about this destructive out-of-state group, local elected officials have begun to call CELDF “plain ignorant” and made it clear that the group’s efforts only make “suckers” out of local residents. Unfortunately for the residents of Youngstown, they have been made suckers to the tune of at least $80,000, so far, with no end in sight for CEDLF’s continued (not so funny) shenanigans.