Helfrich sends two dept. heads to York City Council for confirmation

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Pretzel Co. managing partner Philip Given sits in the front display window at the city business. (Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich on Monday proposed filling two long-vacant department head positions with his former chief of staff and a veteran city government employee.

Helfrich has been criticized in the past for utilizing acting directors, a process which skirts city council confirmation. Helfrich has made it policy to not allow someone to stay in an acting role for more than 12 months, he has said.

The resolutions proposed to council on Monday, Nov. 25, would appoint Philip Given as the director of community and economic development. Given has been the department's acting director since April. 

Helfrich also seeks to name longtime city employee Tom Ray as the city's business administrator. Ray has served as acting business administrator since January. 

The city council is scheduled to vote on whether to appoint both men on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

"I really feel (Given) is one of the most qualified individuals we've had come up for this post in a long time," Helfrich said.

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Given has been a Swiss Army knife for Helfrich's administration. He had served as the mayor's chief of staff since 2018 but was tasked in April with handling economic development amid a string of vacancies.

Ray is a veteran of York City government, having mostly worked in human resources over the last decade.

"I've watched Mr. Ray take the reins of everything and also lead a mutual goal of council and the administration to realign the finance and treasury department to make sure we're following all of the rules," Helfrich said. "He's doing a great job."

Both departments have had problems with turnover. Earlier this year, the economic and community development department went through two acting directors in three months, which lead to Given taking over.

The business administration department lost its chief in July 2018. In September 2018, council scuttled Helfrich's suggested replacement by putting off a vote. Ray, the No. 2 choice, then came on board in January. 

Thomas Ray was appointed the acting business administrator of York City on Tuesday, Jan. 15. (Photo courtesy of York City)

Given, if appointed, would see a pay raise by making $73,500 annually. He made $57,400 as chief of staff, which was raised to $69,279 upon him taking on the acting director role.

Ray would make $100,000. His salary as acting business administrator is $95,000.

City Council President Henry Nixon said he has met with city officials to discuss Given and Ray's performance throughout their tenure.

On Monday, he said Given has a "full grasp of his role and real strategic thinking abilities" and that Ray has left him "very favorably impressed," adding they can be confident they will have his support.

City Council Vice President Sandie Walker, on the other hand, was more reluctant to foreshadow her vote.

"I think they've done their job, but I think other people in those positions have done their job as well," Walker said. "I don't think there's anything impressive." 

Given acknowledged that he, like other Helfrich appointments in the past, could face some scrutiny prior to the city council vote, specifically for his lack of a college degree.

"I think that everyone takes a different path in life," Given said. "I've gone through several different career focuses but, ultimately, even as a business owner, our goal has always been to serve the people."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.