York Mayor Helfrich takes oath, names interim police chief
Frigid weather failed to temper audience expectations as Michael Helfrich was sworn in as the 25th mayor of York City on Tuesday, Jan. 2.
“Today, I receive the greatest honor of my life,” he said. “Making York a healthy, safe and prosperous city is not the work of one person or even all of the people employed by the government. This is a job for all of us.”
By the time Helfrich approached the podium, a crowd of more than 100 people had gathered in front of City Hall on South George Street.
As Helfrich spoke, temperatures failed to crack 20 degrees, and many attendees huddled around outdoor heaters to keep warm during the half-hour ceremony.
Helfrich touched on many aspects of York City life, including the city’s growing Hispanic population — he spoke Spanish a few times — as well as the city’s efforts to become an economic center.
He cited 20th-century agricultural machining businessman A.B. Farquhar as an example of York City entrepreneurship.
Instead of finding people who didn’t live in the city to do work, Farquhar recruited top talent to work and reside in the city for his company, which would become the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works.
“We can do this again,” Helfrich said.
To spur the effort, he announced a new city post to “get the job done.”
Appointments named: The city’s first “Ecosystem Builder” will be Skyler Yost.
A York native, Yost has experience in economic management, recently coming from a position managing the Washington, D.C., offices of the trendy workspace startup WeWork, Helfrich said.
Yost is tasked with using his expertise, along with help from the York County Economic Alliance, to create a “world-class innovation zone in York City,” Helfrich said.
“The future of York City is in the combining of our manufacturing strengths with our educational institutions and 21st-century technology,” Helfrich said.
During his inaugural address, the new mayor also confirmed the employment of several city officials, including Philip Given as his chief of staff.
City business administrator Michael Doweary, Director of Public Works Chaz Green and Director of Economic and Community Development Shilvosky Buffaloe will remain in their respective positions with the city, Helfrich announced, as will York City Fire Chief David Michaels.
Helfrich declined to comment on the status of Director of Community Relations Edquina Washington.
Interim police chief named: Helfrich also used his inaugural address to announce his interim pick to lead the police department after the retirement of Chief Wes Kahley at the end of December.
Troy Bankert, a 19-year veteran of the police department, will serve as interim police chief while the city conducts a search for a permanent chief or commissioner.
“It’s just a matter of a little paperwork” at this point, Helfrich said.
Bankert said he is looking forward to making the department “a part of the community, not apart from the community.”
Bankert said understands the department faces many challenges with the community, but he pledged to meet with city residents to ensure a healthy relationship.
Helfrich said the bond between police and community is essential for dealing with the rash of violence in York City.
“We must learn to trust each other and work together, or we surrender our streets to violence,” he said in his address.
Shivering with excitement: Heather Klinefelter, a York City resident, was among those near one of the heating towers and said it was gratifying to see her lifelong friend — whom she’s served with in cleaning up Codorus Creek — take the oath of office.
Although environmental issues are important to her, Klinefelter said getting the city’s budget “under control” is her main issue.
“I think that there’s a lot of areas where we could trim some waste and put the money to better use,” she said.
Klinefelter said she is confident Helfrich is up to the task and much more.
“I’m so proud that we’re able to take it to the next level with him as mayor,” she said.
Legal challenge: Helfrich was sworn in by Stephen Linebaugh, the same person who, as president judge of the York County Court of Common Pleas, ruled in 2012 that Helfrich’s then-21-year-old felony conviction did not prevent him from running or holding public office.
The issue is once again front and center as six York City residents have filed a complaint in York County court seeking to prevent Helfrich from serving as mayor.
Klinefelter said she was disappointed the eligibility issue is once again being litigated.
“I think that it is unfortunate that people can’t accept the results of the election,” she said, adding she believes a judge will rule in a similar fashion concerning Helfrich’s eligibility.
“It’s an unfortunate example of things that harm York City,” Helfrich said shortly after his inauguration, during his first visit to his new office inside City Hall.
“We need to be a city where we understand that none of us are perfect, but we work together to make everything better,” he said.
Just as Klinefelter stated, Helfrich said he doesn’t expect a different ruling in the new challenge.
“The filings are the exact same as six years ago, to my knowledge, so we don’t really have to do any new homework,” he said.
“We’ve already done this once before.”
Editor's note: This story has been altered to reflect that Troy Bankert is the interim police chief.