Helfrich goes to court over question of his future as York City mayor

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The fate of York City Mayor Michael Helfrich and the lawsuit challenging his eligibility as mayor ... has yet to be determined.

No decision was made Thursday as Judge Clyde Vedder heard arguments from both sides in the lawsuit brought by 18 petitioners earlier this month.

After some 90 minutes of argument, Vedder said he didn't feel comfortable issuing a ruling from the bench. Weighing the gravity of the case and the multiple layers of legal interpretation involved, he said he'd look to make a decision in the "short term." He did not provide a specific timeline.

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Justin Tomevi and Christopher Naylor, the attorneys representing the petitioners, argued that the state's third-class city code stipulates that an elected official is ineligible for the office if they fail to take the oath of office within 14 days of reorganization. Since the city's code does not replace or supplement that part of the state code, they argued, it still applies to the city's elected officials.

Under their interpretation of the law, Helfrich is ineligible to serve as mayor and his office should be deemed vacant.

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Glenn Smith, a former York County solicitor representing Helfrich, argued that the city uses its own code, as allowed for by the Optional Charter Law of 1957. If there are discrepancies or inconsistencies between the documents, the city's code overrides the third-class city code.

He also pointed to another section of city code that states the mayor should take the oath "as soon as possible."

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks during Downtown York's spring update at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts in York City, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

By taking the oath of office on Jan. 24, the first business day after returning from a vacation, Smith said, Helfrich had satisfied the city's code requirements.

In brief testimony, Helfrich said he'd gone to Key West for vacation. Upon returning to York City on the evening of Friday, Jan. 24, he took the oath of office.

"If I was told at any time that I would be trading a week of vacation for the honor of serving as York's mayor," he said, "I would have traded that week of vacation."

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An affidavit was submitted affirming that Helfrich has been a resident of the city of York for at least one year preceding his election. 

City Clerk Dianna Thompson-Mitchell had been called as a witness but did not testify. Her testimony would have been that in her 25-year career as York City clerk, she had never received an affidavit of residency before Helfrich's. 

The petition before the court had also argued that a lack of such an affidavit disqualified Helfrich from office.

In a public statement during the hearing but after his sworn testimony, Helfrich said that his actions had been on the advice of City Solicitor Jason Sabol and that he had not ignored the law.

Tomevi, Naylor and Smith had no comment after the hearing ended. 

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.