The woman who first questioned Michael Helfrich's eligibility for public office said Wednesday that she still believes he cannot legally serve on the York City Council.
Despite a York County judge's ruling that Helfrich is eligible, former Councilwoman Toni Smith said she believes the law clearly disqualifies felons from public office.
"This is just a lower court," Smith said. "The Supreme Court is the one that's going to do the final decision."
York County Common Pleas President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh ruled Wednesday that Helfrich - convicted of two felony drug crimes when he was 20 years old in 1991 - had not committed "infamous" crimes, an ambiguous standard set forth by the state Constitution and long interpreted by court justices to mean felonies.
Using guidance from a recent state Supreme Court ruling, Linebaugh analyzed the circumstances of Helfrich's crimes and concluded that they were not infamous despite being felonies.
Smith said Linebaugh's ruling is "an opinion. It's not the law."
She said York City Mayor Kim Bracey, who filed the original challenge to Helfrich's eligibility, should "absolutely" appeal Linebaugh's decision.
"Let it go through the system and then, at the end, somebody's going to say, 'I told you so,'" she said.
Some of Helfrich's colleagues and supporters reacted happily Wednesday to the news.
"I'm excited for him," Councilwoman Renee Nelson said. "I think the bottom line is the people wanted him. They knew what had happened in the past, and they were willing to forgive him and move forward. I think everyone else should do the same."
Nelson said she hopes the mayor does not appeal the decision because she believes it would be a waste of time and money. She said most York City residents support Helfrich.
"I don't see anyone else complaining or filing complaints at all," Nelson said.
Council President Carol Hill-Evans said she was "thrilled" by news of the decision.
Asked whether she thinks the mayor should appeal, Hill-Evans said she has "no opinion" on the matter.
"That's totally an administrative decision," she said. "I would hope that if it involves taxpayer dollars that she would feel satisfied that the courts have made a decision. But, if not, then not. Whatever their decision is, it's their decision."
Former Council President Genevieve Ray, who campaigned for Helfrich during the November election, said she believes an appeal by the mayor would be "proof" of a "personal vendetta" against Helfrich.
"The mayor has stated that she wanted to get something definitive from the courts. She has that. It should be enough," Ray said. "It may not be the answer she wanted, but she has an answer."
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