York City will pay at least $5,000 for outside counsel in mayor oath lawsuit

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York City could soon ease rules requiring some employees to reside within the city limits.

Instead of being forced to move to the city within six months of hiring, the new rules would require workers to live in York County or any of its contiguous counties.

That would include Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania or Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties in Maryland.

The City Council could take a preliminary vote on the matter at a meeting Wednesday, when a waiver allowing the city solicitor to represent the mayor in a lawsuit also is expected to come up.

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Council President Sandie Walker said she would vote in favor of bringing the residency requirement amendment to a legislative session. 

“It’s definitely time to have some discussion,” she said.

York County Economic Alliance President and CEO Kevin Schreiber, left, York City Councilwoman Sandie Walker exits Sunrise Soap Company with Gov. Tom Wolf while Wolf was visiting York City to promote holiday shopping at local small businesses Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Wolf made several purchases from local shops in of York's Market District. Bill Kalina photo

Walker said she'd had conversations with Mayor Michael Helfrich about addressing the issue of residency. If waived, the hope is that allowing employees to live outside the city would attract more talent to fill vacancies.

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"If they don't pass residency, we are going to lose staff," Helfrich said.

The mayor said he knows staff members who've already told him they'll be leaving if the measure isn't approved.

"They've been loyal to the city, but it's their time to move to a different place and raise their kids in a field where they can have goats and chickens," he said. "They just want a different style of housing and life that isn't provided for here in the city boundaries, and frankly I think they should have that right." 

A majority vote in favor Wednesday would move the residency requirement motion to the council's next legislative session, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 3.

Six new York City police officers were sworn in Monday afternoon, April 11, 2022, at York City Hall. Bil Bowden photo

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich

The change would affect roughly 98 employees of the 360 total, according to the motion to be discussed Wednesday.

Also to be discussed is the waiving of the conflict of interest in the lawsuit challenging Helfrich's eligibility as mayor.

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However, Helfrich already retained local attorney Glenn Smith to represent him in the matter at a hearing last week after the City Council declined to issue a waiver that would have allowed city Solicitor Jason Sabol to represent him.

Helfrich said the outside legal advice has cost the city about $5,000.

While the motion was brought up at the April 19 meeting in advance of Thursday's hearing, the City Council voted unanimously to table discussion until this week's committee meeting, citing what members called a lack of information.

The lawsuit argues that since Helfrich did not take an oath of office within 14 days of the current City Council's first meeting, the office should be considered vacated and an appointment must be made by the president judge of the York County Court of Common Pleas.

Helfrich's position — based on Sabol's advice — is that the city's own code does not specify a timeline for when an oath of office must be taken.

Wednesday's committee meeting will be held at the City Council Chambers, 101 S. George St., York at 6 p.m. To watch, visit the City of York's Facebook page or the White Rose Community TV YouTube page.

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