York City fire chief's wife begs council to waive residency mandate

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Jess Deardorff, left, prepares to pin her husband, York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff during his swearing-in ceremony at York City Hall in York City, Friday, March 8, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Jess Deardorff, the wife of York City's fire chief, on Tuesday gave an emotional plea to the City Council as its members continue to delay voting on a resolution that could save her husband's job.

Deardorff took to the podium during a council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 4, a week after the council refused to waive the city's residency requirement for Chief Chad Deardorff to permit him to continue residing in West Manchester Township.

"Members of council looked at Chad last week and said this isn't personal. For me, this is very personal," Jess Deardorff said, at times holding back tears.

The matter has been more difficult for the family as their son, who has developmental difficulties, continues to struggle. The family moving out of the only home they know would hurt them, she said.

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Michael Helfrich knew in September that Deardorff would not move into the city, a requirement for department heads.

But it wasn't until January that the council was notified, leading to council berating Helfrich last week, alleging the failure to disclose was just another example of an ongoing communication breakdown between the administration and the council.

This past week, council President Henry Nixon said the waiver could very well die in committee and force Deardorff out of his chief role. He also hinted that, if it were to come to a vote, he would vote "no."

Nixon declined to comment further Tuesday after Jess Deardorff's testimony.

Councilman Lou Rivera, who at last week's committee meeting opted not to second a motion to bring the resolution up for a legislative vote, said he would probably move to reconsider the waiver following Jess Deardorff's plea. But, he added, his opposition to the waiver wasn't likely to change. 

Lou Rivera is sworn in at the start of the first York City Council meeting of the year, Monday, January 6, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"(Jess Deardorff's comments) definitely move you," Rivera said. "As elected officials, we should be empathetic, and we've got to listen to the concerns of our citizens. Will that change my vote? More than likely not."

Council Vice President Sandie Walker and Councilwoman Edquina Washington declined to comment on whether the testimony changed their perspective on potentially waiving Deardorff's residency requirement.

Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dixon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Tuesday, York City firefighter Clifton Frederick requested that the council reconsider the waiver, citing Deardorff's long history in the department and his own family's struggles with having to move to the city. 

"Chief Deardorff has worked his butt off ever since he started here to where he is now. This is his dream job," Frederick said. "Finally, after 25 year of putting the city first, his wife said, 'It is our turn to be first.'"

Marc Ott, president of the union representing the city's firefighters, made a similar plea after praising the chief for working closely with the union to address issues.

The council has until later this 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.

It's unclear whether the waiver expires Feb. 19, a year after when council first approved a waiver for Deardorff, or Feb. 28, when he officially began serving as chief, Helfrich has said.

If council 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.

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