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One fire chief for the price of two? It could happen in York City

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff during the swearing in of York City Fire & Rescue fire officers Capt. Adam Smith, who will serve as Assistant Chief, and Capt. Kevin Pflaum, both assigned to B Platoon, at City Hall in York City, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York City taxpayers could end up essentially funding the salaries of two fire chiefs if the City Council lets Fire Chief Chad Deardorff's residency requirement waiver expire or votes against a renewal.

During a contentious committee meeting Wednesday, Jan. 29, all five council members laid into Mayor Michael Helfrich, alleging that waiting until January to inform them that Deardorff would not move into the city was just another example of a lack of transparency within his administration.

"I don't like doing business like that," council President Henry Nixon said. "The communication between the administration and this council is less than desirable. And so I guess we all have to live with that."

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Earlier this month, City Council delayed voting on the resolution waiving Deardorff's residency requirement, sending it back to committee. 

At Wednesday's meeting, an attempt to move the resolution to the Feb. 4 legislative agenda failed without garnering a second.

Most of the council members' gripes stemmed from the fact Helfrich was aware as early as September that Deardorff would not move back to the city.

The mayor, as well as the chief, has said a move would "uproot" Deardorff's family, which now lives in West Manchester Township.

But the council's anger toward Helfrich's decision may keep the resolution in limbo, potentially costing Deardorff's position as head of the department.

"It may stay in committee the rest of its life," Nixon said. "When (the previous residency requirement waiver) runs out, he's gone."

The council only has until next month to make a call on the resolution that would waive Deardorff's residency requirement. After that, the one-year waiver approved by the council last year runs out.

If members reject the resolution or let it die in committee, Helfrich would likely have to find a new chief who either lives in the city or is willing to move, he said. 

In that case, Deardroff would have to make a decision about whether to stay with the department and take a demotion or opt to leave. If he were to be demoted to deputy chief, city policy dictates that his current salary of $106,452 would not change.

The city would then have to essentially pay two chief salaries, Helfrich said.

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Both the council and Helfrich made it clear Wednesday that the spat was not a personal issue with Deardorff, who has been with the department for more than 25 years.

But the mayor was bewildered by the fact that the council would risk losing that experience over a communication breakdown and his administration's tenuous relationship with the council.

"If you feel that I have somehow wronged you, you can continue to reprimand me," Helfrich said. "But please make decisions on what is best for the city, not on your feelings about me."

Helfrich noted that the council seemed to have no trouble granting former York City Police Chief Wes Kahley residency wavers. Kahley served under former Mayor Kim Bracey's administration for seven years without ever living within the city boundaries.

Upon taking office, Helfrich reversed course, tapping former York City Police Chief Troy Bankert, who eventually moved into the city.

The mayor argued on Wednesday that it is more imperative for police chiefs to live in the city, as that post requires more interaction with residents.

Nixon, the only sitting council member who was on the council during the time of the police chief waivers, rebutted that Kahley made it clear from the outset that he would not be moving into the city.

Deardorff, he said, made it appear as if he just needed more time to sell his home in West Manchester Township. The council wasn't aware of the issue of uprooting his children, Nixon said.

After the meeting, Nixon said "one could surmise" how he'd vote if it came before the council in a legislative meeting based on his comments. The four remaining council members declined to comment.

The mayor's administration has butted heads with City Council over Helfrich's hiring decisions on multiple occasions since he took office.

For example, last year, council members blasted his choice to name Blanda Nace to the post of chief opportunity development officer.

The appointment didn't have to receive council approval because it is not a director position, and the council accused the mayor of using the job title to circumvent the legislative body's oversight.

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