Judge denies petition to oust York City Mayor Michael Helfrich

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

As the new officers stand behind, Mayor Michael Helfrich addresses the crowd.

A judge has denied a petition to remove Michael Helfrich as York City mayor over the timing of his oath of office.

York County Common Pleas Judge Clyde Vedder issued the opinion Wednesday in the case brought by 18 city electors.

"If the Electors want to persist in wanting to remove Mr. Helfrich from office, they will need to do it the old-fashioned way, that is, at the ballot box," Vedder's 19-page opinion reads.

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Helfrich did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The petition, filed in April, was an attempt to remove Helfrich from office over the perceived lateness of the taking of his oath of office. It had argued that since Helfrich did not take an oath of office within the 14 days mandated by the third-class city code, the office should be considered vacated and an appointment must be made by the president judge of the York County Court of Common Pleas.

Justin Tomevi, attorney for the petitioners, disagreed with the judge's ruling in a written statement.

"Judge Vedder is an excellent and skilled jurist, but we respectfully disagree with his decision on this matter," Tomevi wrote. "The decision involves the rewriting of the statute to include an exception if an elected official is on vacation or out of town and an extension of the legislatively set 14 day deadline."

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Tomevi added: "These underpinnings of the decision simply do not exist in the statute and overturn what our state legislators have enacted into law. My clients are reviewing their appellate options."

The petitioners would have 30 days from the filing of the ruling to appeal.

For Helfrich's part, his attorney, Glenn Smith, said they were pleased with the decision.

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"We felt all along that the mayor has done nothing wrong, that at every step of the way he has followed the law, and we’re pleased that the court has confirmed that," Smith said Thursday.

While the ruling found that Helfrich was obligated to take the oath of office within 14 days of the City Council’s reorganizational meeting under the third class city code, Vedder’s ruling also notes that Helfrich was in Washington, D.C., at the time, participating in the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“There was certainly no refusal to take the oath of office, nor did he ever intend to ignore his duty to take the oath of office,” Vedder’s ruling reads.

The City Council held its reorganizational meeting Jan. 4. The last day for taking the oath of office was then, arguably, Jan. 18, if Helfrich had been available. At the time, Helfrich was at the Conference of Mayors, which ran from Jan. 18-21, performing the duties of mayor.

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Helfrich’s unavailability “tolled” the time period of 14 days, Vedder ruled. That means the clock was stopped for that time period until the next business day, Jan. 24, when Helfrich took the oath of office.

“Even if we did not toll the running of the statutory provision, we would not disenfranchise him for what is so trifling as possibly being three days late,” Vedder wrote. “To remove Mr. Helfrich from office would ignore the clear determination of the electorate and result in the election being an empty ritual.”

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