York City Mayor Kim Bracey will not appeal a judge's ruling earlier this month that York City Councilman Michael Helfrich is eligible for public office despite his conviction of two felonies 20 years ago.
In an emailed statement Friday morning, Bracey said she acknowledges "the county court has spoken, and we accept and will abide by its ruling."
Bracey filed a petition in York County court late last year contending Helfrich is constitutionally ineligible for public office. York County Common Pleas President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh departed from decades of case law to rule Aug. 1 that Helfrich is eligible for public office despite his criminal history.
"I have fulfilled my oath of office and duty by following the legal precedent and my conscience earlier this year," Bracey wrote. "Now that the court has spoken, it is time to focus on the future."
Thirty days after Linebaugh's ruling, Friday would have been the last day Bracey could have legally filed an appeal.
Helfrich was 20 years old when he pleaded guilty in 1991 to two state felony charges of possession of and conspiracy to deliver drugs. According to a court transcript, Helfrich offered a ride to the airport to a man whom he knew to be in possession of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.
Late last year, Bracey filed a petition in York County court contending Helfrich's felony convictions make him constitutionally ineligible for public office. At issue was a single, ambiguous phrase in the state Constitution, which bans from elected positions anyone convicted of "embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime."
In his opinion, Linebaugh rejected the idea Helfrich had been convicted of "infamous crimes" simply because they were felonies.
The mayor said in her statement Friday that her initial decision to challenge Helfrich's eligibility stemmed from her dedication to uphold her oath of office, which requires her to defend the Constitution.
"I made a thorough, soul-searching analysis, based on legal precedent then available, the words of my oath of office, and the advice of legal counsel," she wrote. "Contrary to the misleading speculations of a few cynics, I did not make this decision lightly, and it was not based on personal preference or prejudice."
Bracey urged the state General Assembly to "resolve this issue once and for all by clearly defining what crimes are infamous for purposes of who should be seated to elected office."
Helfrich's reaction: Reached by phone Friday morning, Helfrich said he "couldn't agree more."
"At no time in this process have I felt that having my case before the court was improper. I have always thought that the citizens deserved an answer to this question," Helfrich said. "The Legislature has to clear this up."
Helfrich said he spent $10,000 defending his ability to serve on the council.
"If we can get our legislators to take the steps needed, we can get the same results as I was looking for but without the expense to the city and private citizens," he said.
As for his relationship with the administration, Helfrich said, "The mayor and I are already working together on new proposals to revitalize York."
"Even before this decision, we have already been taking the steps to put this behind us," he said.
- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.