EDITORIAL: York City residents deserve a mayor and a council that can act like adults

York Dispatch
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.
  • York City Council and the city's mayor have had several disputres recently.
  • The latest revolves around a residency waiver for the city's fire chief.
  • Council members are accusing Mayor Michael Helfrich of a lack of transparency.

York City residents deserve better.

That’s the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the recent dispute that could end up leaving city taxpayers footing the bill for the salaries of two fire chiefs.

That’s the scenario that exists if the City Council lets Fire Chief Chad Deardorff's residency requirement waiver expire or votes against a renewal.

During a contentious committee meeting on Jan. 29 all five council members ripped Mayor Michael Helfrich. They alleged 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.

York City Council President Henry Nixon.

The council has a good point. Actually, a very good point — they have a right to be upset.

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 and the chief said a move would "uproot" Deardorff's family, which now lives in West Manchester Township.

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

Left in limbo: The council, earlier this month, delayed voting on the resolution waiving Deardorff's residency requirement, sending it back to committee. At the Jan. 29 meeting, an attempt to move the resolution to the Feb. 4 legislative agenda failed without garnering a second.

Now, the council's anger at Helfrich 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," council President Henry Nixon said. "When (the previous residency requirement waiver) runs out, he's gone."

York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff.

Paying two chiefs: 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.

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

That is simply not acceptable.

The issue here is not Deardorff. Both the council and Helfrich said that this dispute has nothing to do with the capabilities of the chief, who has been with the department for more than 25 years.

The mayor, rightfully, doesn’t want to lose a man with that type of experience.

Lack of communication: The dispute has everything to do with a severe lack of communication and a less-than-cordial relationship between Helfrich and the council.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Helfrich and the council members have butted heads. In fact, it’s become all-too commonplace. Just last year, council members blasted Helfrich’s choice to name Blanda Nace to the post of chief opportunity development officer.

York City overhauls hiring practices after Nace town hall

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

Like most disputes, there is likely plenty of blame to go around, but the majority of the responsibility for this conflict seems to reside with Helfrich.

He may not like it, but the council serves a vital role as a check on mayoral power. Helfrich needs to do a better job of keeping the council informed about his decisions.

The council has a job to do, just like the mayor does. If the city is to operate smoothly, both parties must cooperate and act like adults.

The city residents deserve nothing less.