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York City Mayor Michael Helfrich has walked back claims his top economic adviser would not be subject to the city's one-year limit on acting directors after being contradicted by the city solicitor.

After a Tuesday meeting of the City Council, Helfrich said that Philip Given, acting director of community and economic development, could continue in his position indefinitely without council confirmation because he was tapped for the position before the rule was codified in September.

"He predates the policy," Helfrich said, directing further questions to the city solicitor when asked follow-up questions.

More: York City Council pulls Given confirmation, OKs Ray as business admin

In April 2019, Given, then Helfrich's chief of staff, was named to the acting director position, which didn't require council's approval.

The council was expected to vote in December on approving Given's transition to a permanent role, as well as a permanent position for acting business administrator Tom Ray. Although it approved Ray's move, the council pulled Given's position from consideration. The issue hasn't come up since.

Helfrich had made it a policy to only allow individuals to sit in acting director roles for 12 months. But that policy wasn't codified until September 2019.

It's true that Given predates the policy, said Jason Sabol, the city's solicitor.

But that only means that Given will have until September to act in the position, which marks a year from when the ordinance was officially codified.

Helfrich, upon hearing Sabol's opinion, on Wednesday said he "no longer" stood by his statement from Tuesday night.

Most council members have refused to comment about their stance on Given's potential appointment since it first came up four months ago. 

Only council President Henry Nixon has been willing to comment, remarks that have included praise of Given's performance.

On Tuesday, Nixon said he's ready to act on Given's appointment. He would not, however, address the council's inability to put the appointment up for a vote or how he himself would vote.

"God, I hope (it comes up for a vote)," Nixon said. "Personally, I'm ready to vote."

The consideration has been delayed because of an apparent communication breakdown between the council and Helfrich's administration.

Nixon has said that after the council pulled the appointment from its December agenda, members submitted questions to the mayor's administration seeking more details about Given's qualifications.

Helfrich has not responded to those questions to this day, he said.

The mayor, however, denied that council members have come to him with questions about Given's qualifications and on Tuesday said it's in their hands to choose whether to bring the matter up for a vote.

In his mind, he said, the council is "waiting until they are comfortable."

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

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