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History behind funding of Law’s campaign

It might really be true that no good deed goes unpunished.

Tribune Chronicle political reporter David Skolnick reported Feb. 1 the answer to a burning question about who funded last fall’s political campaign of Warren mayoral challenger Randy Law. Law ran as an independent candidate against incumbent Democratic Mayor Doug Franklin in November.

As it turns out, according to a Federal Election Commission filing made public in recent weeks, the company providing $133,109 to a political action committee that funded Law’s unsuccessful campaign is affiliated with Patriot Water Treatment LLC, a Warren facility that, after years of fighting legal battles together with the city, apparently no longer was interested in doing business with the current city administration.

Campaign records show America’s Tomorrow, an Ohio-based PAC, gave $117,963 in in-kind contributions to Law’s campaign. The only donor to the PAC is Patriot Land Co. LLC of Lisbon, a sister company to Patriot Water LLC.

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, who started his third term in office last month after defeating Law, was furious to hear of Patriot’s backing of his opponent.

“It was a vendetta campaign from the start,” Franklin said.

You see, Patriot Water has a long history with Warren and the Franklin administration.

It was 2010 when Patriot Water, located on Sferra Avenue on Warren’s northwest side, began treating brine wastewater from the oil and natural gas fracking industry. According to Tribune Chronicle Chronicle archives, Patriot Water treated frack wastewater by removing heavy metals and other pollutants before sending the water through city sewers to Warren’s wastewater treatment plant for further processing. From there, the treated water was released to the Mahoning River.

Clearly, the city saw dollar signs. A 2012 Tribune Chronicle story quotes then-Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa, now Warren’s elected law director, saying, “We have earned approximately $350,000 annually from Patriot and had the potential of earning much more.”

But soon, water safety questions arose and legal battles ensued involving attempts by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and environmental groups to shut down Patriot.

In an attempt to keep Patriot operating and the money flowing, Warren even jumped on board to help pay some of Patriot Water’s legal bills. In 2013, Warren council authorized spending $234,272 to pay for Patriot Water’s legal fight to maintain its permit.

By 2017, the oil and gas industry declined locally and Patriot was treating polluted water from other industries. But the process was emitting a foul odor in some Warren neighborhoods.

The relationship between Warren and Patriot Water grew strained, and at one point, Patriot refused to give city officials access to raw materials treated at the plant, city officials said at the time, possibly because company officials believed the disclosures would place them at a competitive disadvantage.

Around the same time, another lawsuit filed against Warren and Patriot by an environmental group cost the city’s Water Pollution Control Department hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Warren ultimately resolved its part of that case by agreeing to pay $116,616 of the plaintiff’s legal fees.

While Patriot’s legal fight continued, Warren’s settlement terms barred the city from accepting total dissolved solids, total suspended solids and barium from Patriot above a certain limit, effectively ending the city’s treatment of drilling muds.

Mind you, all this action and expenses to the taxpayers were occurring under the Franklin administration.

Despite attempts, Law and Patriot Land Co. and Patriot Water owner Andrew Blocksom did not comment for the Tribune Chronicle election funding story published Feb. 1.

Yes, the story is a long, winding tale that appears to have ended badly. But there is a lesson to be learned, I think.

It all started when the city saw opportunities to generate revenue and jumped in head first, even when it involved shelling out taxpayer dollars to foot legal bills for a private company.

That should never, ever happen, even if the company does do business within city limits.

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