Helfrich: Hold spots for minorities on agencies, boards and commissions

York City Police Commissioner Osborne Robinson, left, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich stand together as more than 1,000 participate in the York Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. It would be the second day of larger scale protests in the city following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Mn., on May 25. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Editor's note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Mayor Michael Helfrich's comments. Helfrich was speaking about appointments to boards and commissions, not paid positions. 

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich on Monday said he is leaving spots on commissions and authority boards open for minorities and "pushing away" white applicants.

At a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the York City Police Department on Monday, Helfrich addressed a crowd of about 30 people — and urged minorities to apply to open positions in the city so their voices could be heard.

“I call it the incubator,” he said of the effort to foster talent within the ranks of appointed posts.

Helfrich aims fill open slots on boards, authorities and commissions — all appointed posts — with people of color, he said, but few have applied so far.

White candidates are lined up for vacancies, and the city is "pushing them away," Helfrich said. 

As of right now, these boards are almost entirely white, Helfrich said. 

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Helfrich at the rally pointed out Jamiel Alexander, a Black man on the York City General Authority board, and said these appointments can be a first step toward a future in politics and government. 

The protest, organized by Central York High School senior Unique Fields and Temple University student Meishaa Bartlett, was planned specifically to raise the voices of Black women, such as Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home by police.

A Sept. 23 decision by a Kentucky grand jury failed to charge any of the officers involved in her shooting.

Those who attended the protest said the lack of justice for Taylor was not just an issue in Kentucky, but one that was relevant in York, too, with accounts of passive racism and problems with police unions and police brutality.

Boosting minority representation throughout York City's government, a majority-minority city, has been one focus amid racial upheaval nationally.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday in June sought to address complaints about opportunities and hiring practices by vowing to maintain a diverse staff of employees.

He read a commitment-to-diversity statement to offer hope that people of color would have equal employment opportunities and be treated fairly by the justice system.

Diversity has especially been a hot-button issue in the city police force.

The city’s police department had a staff that is 90% white men as of last month, despite city residents being about 26% Black and 33% Hispanic and Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a result, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus opened a probe into how to bolster the numbers of minority officers in smaller cities statewide.

York City School District officials struggled last year to recruit minority students for the district’s public safety academy — which would train them for jobs in fire and police.

Helfrich urged people of color to apply for open positions on city staff or tell their friends to do so.

He said every position requires some on-the-job learning, but they are probably more qualified than they think.