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EDITORIAL: City leaders need to live with their own policies

York Dispatch Editorial Board
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich reads aloud the anonymous names of child abuse victims during a ceremony presented by the Children's Advocacy Center on Thursday, April 1. Tina Locurto photo.

York City will soon have some empty desks to fill.

And Mayor Michael Helfrich isn't sure they can be filled without changing the rules.

Helfrich announced last week that Business Administrator Tom Ray and Health Bureau Director Barbara Kovacs will soon retire. In addition, Helfrich's chief of staff, Philip Given, will be stepping down, and Helfrich will have to step down as acting director of community and economic development.

The fact that the mayor is also the acting director of community and economic development should be a sign that the administration is having issues.

Helfrich took on the position in September, when the York City Council refused to take a vote on whether to give Given the position after he held the "acting" title for more than a year. Helfrich installed a policy in 2019 that department heads could only stay in their jobs for 12 months without confirmation from the city council. 

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Meanwhile, city jobs ranging from painters to wastewater plant workers remain unfilled. Altogether, 18 positions were listed on the city's website, www.yorkcity.org/employment/

“We have so many jobs right now, and (they're) really important jobs," Helfrich said. "You’re going to see a change in the folks who are running the City of York."

And yet, Helfrich is hard pressed to say how those "really important jobs" will be filled without changing the requirement that all nonunion city employees live within the city limits.

"If nobody is applying from within the city, then you're asking somebody to move into the city," Helfrich said. "This is one of the reasons I want to eliminate the residency ordinance."

But is it really too much to ask that someone who will be leading a department in the city live in that city? Shouldn't the person leading the business department, the health department, the community and economic development department live in the city that they're serving?

Yes, the city has many problems, from the highest property tax rate in the county to violent crime to schools that consistently rank among the worst in the state. But shouldn't someone who is going to be leading the departments that are dealing with these issues live in the city so that they are affected by their actions too?

Having a group of people who are in charge of policies affecting the residents of a city but who are exempt from those policies because they don't live within the city limits smacks of a mindset that a city like York, with its mixed Black, Latino and white population and areas of choking poverty, doesn't need.

Don't use the residency requirement as an excuse to allow people to run a city without feeling the consequences of their decisions themselves.