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EDITORIAL: Latino representation in York City leadership roles needs marked improvement

York Dispatch
  • York City's Latino population is roughly 13,600.
  • Latinos represent more than 30 percent of York City residents.
  • There are zero Latinos in leadership roles with the York City government.

It’s a number that practically jumps off the page.

Zero.

Recently retired judge Stephen Linebaugh administers the oath of office to York City Mayor Michael Helfrich with Latino leader Lou Rivera standing by during a ceremony outside city hall Tuesday, Jan 2, 2017. Helfrich is the 25th mayor of York. Bill Kalina photo

That’s the number of Latino residents serving in leadership positions under the York City government.

That borders on the unbelievable when you consider there are roughly 13,600 Latino residents in the city, which represents more than 30 percent of the city’s population of just more than 44,000.

Leadership positions include the mayor, city council, chairs of authorities, boards and commissions and heads of departments.

Most reasonable folks would agree that is something that needs to be fixed. In a city as diverse as York, that diversity should be reflected in the city government.

Recognizing this as a problem is the first step toward solving it.

Determining how this situation developed, and figuring out how to rectify it, is a much trickier issue.

Not just a York problem: It should be noted that this is not a situation limited to York. In fact, Latino representation is also nearly nonexistent in similar Pennsylvania cities, such as Bethlehem, Allentown, Reading, Lancaster, Lebanon and Harrisburg.

Of those cities, only Reading had a Latino in a leadership position — the chief of police.

It’s fairly obvious that both the city government and the city’s Latino population each bear some responsibility for the current situation. It’s also fairly obvious that both groups will have to work together to fix it.

York City Latino population is growing, but government representation remains absent

The city must reach out to its Latino residents and encourage — maybe even push — them to get more involved. The city must also actively look to promote Latinos who work for the city into leadership roles.

The city, however, can’t do it alone.

The Latino residents must also do their part. They have to get involved and run for elected office at every opportunity. They must also look to join local organizations and boards and start networking. That is where contacts are often made which can lead to leadership positions.

Communication key: Communication between the Latino community and city government officials will be the key to solving this problem.

“It starts with one having to start the conversation and to making that conscious effort to search and seek out qualified individuals from those communities,“ said Wilda Alessi, the executive director of Leadership York.

Having those conversations about Latino engagement is a start, but the conversations must include Latinos in audience — something that hasn’t always been the case, according to Louis Rivera, founder of Latinos Unidos, a Latino advocacy organization in York City.

“I’ve seen improvements over the last year, and that’s going to continue to be our fight,” Rivera said. “However, it shouldn’t have to be a long, thought-out process.”

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich says he is optimistic that progress will be made, but he warns that it may take some time for serious inroads into the problem.

He’s right. The problem can’t be solved overnight. But it’s not something that should take decades, either.

This is an issue that has existed far too long. It’s time to solve it.

Talk must lead to results in the very near future.