York City's new council president calls out mayor: 'We are in crisis'

Sandie Walker
York City Council.
Sandie Walker and fellow York City Council members honor the late Dr. Edwin Rivera and his wife Delma, parents of Delma Rivera-Lytle, who were instrumental in uplifting York's Latino community, Sunday, September 22, 2019. The 200 block of E. Princess Street has been named in honor of the Rivera's.
John A. Pavoncello photo

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. A servant will not be corrected by words: for though he understands he will not answer. Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope of a fool than of him.”

— Proverbs 29:18-20

We have been in a crisis in the City of York. This crisis did not start with the statewide shutdown in March 2020 due to COVID-19. The crisis here in the City of York will not end with the awarding of one-time American Rescue Plan Act funding from the federal government.

Mayor Michael Helfrich was elected four years ago and again in November on his promise to cut crime and open more doors for diversity and opportunity. Mayor Helfrich was elected four years ago and again in November on his promise to implement plans and proposals beyond words and editorials, but real comprehensible plans with a vision. 

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Four years later …

City Council and the rest of York City are still waiting for even a semblance of a short- and long-term vision above and beyond a grant process. With a demand for unrestricted access to $17 million dollars (not just the $6 million dollars on paper) once granted means a piggy bank left in the hands of this mayor with no enforceable accountability, nor transparency for City Council, nor our antiquated Central Purchasing Agency.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks during a Community Violence Awareness Event at Lincoln Charter School Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. The event was sponsored by York City Police, the City of York, and The Movement. Bill Kalina photo

To make this situation even more plain, we at City Council, and the public, are still waiting for the minimally mandated State of the City Address we’ve not once received in four years of Mayor Helfrich’s administration and counting. 

When a person in a leadership position blows an uncertain trumpet, those who are under his/her sound are often confused and move aimlessly without direction. 

Our city has suffered because of Michael Helfrich’s uncertainty, which has manifested through:

  • The unprecedented turnover of three police chiefs/commissioners in less than three years.
  • A continuously strained relationship between the York City Police Department and this mayor resulting in a complete lack of respect in his ability to lead and guide this department and the rest of his agencies.
  • Gun violence that more than once in the past four years ranked higher than Compton, California and Detroit and even Chicago per capita.
  • Only one consistently filled department head position, leaving remaining departments struggling for directives from the mayor.
  • Late financial audit filings.
  • Interim employees tasked to take on additional duties that cannot effectively be fulfilled due to the mayor’s lack of direction and morale-killing need to micromanage almost everything. 
  • The mayor’s basic lack of understanding of the assigned role and duties of City Council as both the legislative and fiduciary branch of city government versus his mayoral duties as the administrator of our city government.

Since Mayor Helfrich saw fit to draw me out personally, I will address the facts he would not.

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Penn Market — despite being completely written off by “our” mayor because of the impoverished residents (he also represents) surrounding it — still remains a historic hub for small business owners. It is also a vital source for desperately affected communities of all colors lacking fresh, healthy, dietary alternatives readily available in most higher-income residencies.

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What Mayor Helfrich conveniently forgot to mention, in what we can only now conclude is him “mayoring” by Facebook posts and editorials, is City Council’s clearly stated initiative to rewrite and adopt the Small and Disadvantaged Business Act (Article 136). 

Mayor Helfrich’s promised — and still stalled — rewrite of this ordinance would not only be an economic benefit for all local small business owners but will include key diversity components and goals for our central purchasing agency, bringing real-time, transparent accountability for every dime spent to include the ARPA funding in question.

Oddly enough, Michael Helfrich accused previous administrations of breaking the law when it came to providing council with information, yet he has done the exact same thing.

People don’t want to move to the City of York because of increasing crime, violence, limited education opportunities, high taxes, unkept sidewalks, streets, and parks amongst other things — the very issues the mayor was elected to address four years ago, with more than just a one-time federal handout with no vision about what to do next.

Even today, York City cannot give prompt employment offers because the director of human resources is also serving as the interim business administrator and acting mayor.

This is the state of York City. 

We are in crisis. 

Pointing fingers, having temper-tantrums and walking off the playing field, as Mayor Helfrich has done because things didn’t go his way, might make him feel better, but it exacerbates the current environment of crisis. 

As elected officials, it is our responsibility to understand our roles, execute due diligence, and make decisions that are in the best interest of our city, which includes people, businesses, organizations, and many other general extensive systems. 

We will not agree at times, but it is imperative that we work together before we completely lose the trust of the public. As we enter into this new year, I’m confident that we all want what is best for the City of York. 

On Jan. 3, 2022, Mayor Danene Sorace gave her fifth State of the City Address, and it was a wonderful collaboration with Lancaster City Council. Mayor Helfrich, I am requesting that you address the state of York City. I am requesting that you provide a clear vision along with defined action steps so that we all can come together and move our city in the right direction. If you need help, you don’t have to look far. Many are qualified, ready, willing, and able to assist. We all just need to know your vision.

— Sandie Walker is the new president of York City Council.