York City's residency rule could again flare up with new fire chief pick

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Council President Henry Nixon speaks during a town hall meeting concerning Mayor Michael Helfrich's hiring of Blanda Nace as chief opportunity development officer, Monday, June 24, 2019. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The man tapped to take over as chief of the York City Fire Department intends to split his time between his home in Manchester Township and a house he intends to purchase in York City, he said.

But at least one member of York City Council questioned that strategy as a potential end-run on the local regulation requiring department heads to live within city limits. 

Deputy Fire Chief Bill Sleeger on Wednesday was chosen to run the city's fire department beginning March 26, following Chief Chad Deardorff 's announcement that he had accepted a job with WellSpan.

In an interview Thursday, Sleeger said he intends to purchase a house in York City within the next few weeks and divide his time between the new home and his residence in Manchester Township. 

“We’ll just get a place and split my time,” he said of his family. “With them, they’ll be here, and vice versa.”

More:York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff to leave post

More:York City Council gives fire chief another year to meet residency mandate

Initially, Sleeger will become acting fire chief, which won't trigger the residency requirement, according to city officials. However, Philip Given, the mayor's chief of staff, said the administration's aim is to nominate Sleeger for the post left vacant by Deardorff's resignation.

York City Council President Henry Nixon on Friday said he "doesn't buy" Sleeger's plan to split his time between his new residence in York City and his home in Manchester Township.

“It’s problematic insofar as it doesn’t comply with the intent of the law,” Nixon said. "It certainly complies with the law.”

Under the York City ordinance, residency is defined as "the actual domicile where the employee normally eats and sleeps and maintains a normal household," said city controller AliceAnne Frost.

Any investigations into whether someone actually abides by the requirement would be left up to Mayor Michael Helfrich's administration, she said.

Helfrich said that Sleeger's plans "certainly" abide by the city's rules.

York City Deputy Fire Chief William Sleeger.

“By our HR standards, we believe that if you have a residence and have your license, and basically all of your legal papers assigned to that residency and we observe you are living at that residency, you are allowed to have other properties," Helfrich said.

Sleeger, who has been with the department since 1992, said that the sudden change in residency would still uproot his family, and they "have to go this other route."

The city's residency requirement for department heads has been an issue for decades.

In 1995, York City Police Commissioner Russell Clanagan was fired by then-Mayor Charlie Robertson. At the time, it was suspected that Clanagan didn't actually live within the York City home he had purchased but rather continued to commute from Lewisberry.

As recently as last year, issues with residency requirements sparked debate among Helfrich and the City Council, and Deardorff was at the center of the issue. 

Deardorff's resignation comes a year after tensions arose between Helfrich and York City Council because Deardorff lived outside city limits. Deardorff also argued moving would uproot his family.

Deardorff had already been granted one waiver a year before, and  City Council was set to vote on granting him a second waiver.

Council members criticized Helfrich because he knew in September 2019 that Deardorff would not move into the city, yet Helfrich didn't inform them until several months later, they said.

Council members eventually relented, voting unanimously to extend the chief's residency waiver for another year. 

Council member Lou Rivera said he doesn't see anything wrong with Sleeger's plans as long as he follows city ordinances. But he also cautioned that any possible residency issue would be bad for the city.

"I don't want to run into some of the issues we've run into in the past," Rivera said.

Council members Sandie Walker, Edquina Washington and Judy Ritter-Dickson did not respond to inquiries for comment.

City officials have said that the city does not plan on advertising the position for fire chief.

Both Nixon and Rivera said that Sleeger clearly has vast experience with the city fire department. But they also said they need to take time to get to know him better before deciding on whether to confirm him.

It is unclear as to when the confirmation of Sleeger would come up for vote.

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