York City Council OK's new director of community and economic development

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Council holds a town hall meeting at Logos Academy to hear the public's opinion on residency requirements for city employees, Monday, February 10, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

York City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the appointment of Nona Bethea Watson as the first official director of community and economic development in years.

Watson will replace Mayor Michael Helfrich, who took over as acting director last year when the York City Council wouldn't back the appointment of Philip Given. The department has been led by acting directors since at least 2013.

"Ms. Watson is highly qualified and lives in the city," Helfrich said. "What more could we ask for?

The annual salary for the position is $95,000.

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Watson's appointment follows years of debates over the city's residency requirement for department heads that have led to flare ups between city council members and Helfrich.

One of the most contentious moments between the mayor and the council surfaced last year, when the council discovered former Fire Chief Chad Deardorff did not plan to move into the city. He later did so one month before retiring in March.

Watson previously served as director of economic development for the city of Harrisburg. She also has served as the executive director of Buffalo, New York's Urban Renewal Agency.

She did not respond to requests for comment, but council members on Tuesday offered their support of Helfrich's pick.

Council President Henry Nixon and council Vice President Sandie Walker both said they were excited to work with someone with such qualifications and community ties.

“When hiring somebody that’s from the city that’s fully qualified, that always should excite elected officials,” said council member Lou Rivera.

Council members Edquina Washington and Judy Ritter-Dickson did not respond to requests for comment.

The community and economic development department has had a string of vacancies over the past couple of years.

In early 2019, the department went through two acting directors before Given, then Helfrich's chief of staff, took over in April of that year.

In December 2019, council refused to appoint Given as the permanent director and pulled the appointment resolution from their agenda.

Ritter-Dickson in an op-ed at the time said Given was not qualified to serve as the official director because he did not have a college degree.

Given continued to serve as acting director until September 2020, when he returned to serve as Helfrich's chief of staff and Helfrich took over as acting director.

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