Oral arguments scheduled in Michael Helfrich oath-of-office case
Oral arguments for the appeal of York City Mayor Michael Helfrich's eligibility to hold office have officially been scheduled.
A panel of judges from the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania will hear arguments June 6 in the case concerning a delay in Helfrich's oath-of-office ceremony in January 2022. Attorneys for both sides look forward to the chance to argue their case, and the mayor himself is looking forward to it as well.
"I look forward to getting this behind us," Helfrich said Thursday.
Justin Tomevi, attorney for the 18 appellants seeking to have Helfrich disqualified from office, said the electors who initially sued are ready for review.
"My clients look forward to the Commonwealth Court’s review of the matter," Tomevi said Thursday.
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Concerns over the timing of Helfrich's oath of office began shortly after the beginning of 2022. Following the 2021 election, Helfrich took his oath of office for his second term on Jan. 24, 2022 — 20 days after the City Council's organizational meeting on Jan. 4. He was initially on vacation when that meeting took place and subsequently attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.
The third-class city code, under which York City operates except when it is governed by its own code, mandates that mayors take the oath within 14 days of the council's organizational meeting or be ruled ineligible for office.
Subsequently, a petition was filed to the Court of Common Pleas in April 2022 by 18 people asking for Helfrich's removal and for a temporary replacement to be named by the court. The petitioners included former City Council President Henry Nixon and former council members Toni Smith and Judy Ritter-Dickson, as well as former city official Shilvosky Buffaloe and Shareef Hameed, Helfrich's unsuccessful 2021 opponent in the mayoral election.
Judge's decision in Mayor Helfrich's "oath of office" case - DocumentCloud
Judge Clyde Vedder would rule in June after a hearing last April that while the third-class city code applies, the timing of the oath was "de minimis," meaning a minor concern that didn't rise to the level of Helfrich's removal. He also "tolled" the time between the reorganizational meeting and the oath, ruling that the first day Helfrich could have taken the oath was Jan. 24, the day he took it.
“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.”
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The electors then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which governs appeals. After an unsuccessful attempt to dismiss the appeal by Helfrich's attorney, Glenn Smith, the two sides filed opposing briefs. While Tomevi argued that Vedder erred in his ruling and that the third-class city code is clear, Smith argued that Helfrich cannot succeed himself as mayor, making the issue moot, as the oath the mayor took at the beginning of his first term remains in effect.
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"We look forward to the opportunity to address this matter before the Commonwealth Court in June in order to set the record clear that Mayor Helfrich has complied with the law and that this appeal is without any merit," Smith said Thursday.
— Reach Matt Enright via email at email@example.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.