Dear York City officials: Quit the oath of office malarkey and govern

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD

Baffling.

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

That's the best way to describe the sequence of petty squabbling that broke out — again — between York City Council and Mayor Michael Helfrich over the past two months.

This latest volley started over Helfrich's December-announced plan to use some of the city's federal COVID aid for a variety of programs addressing violence, homelessness and economic development.

The council, then led by Henry Nixon and now by Sandie Walker, didn't necessarily disagree with those uses — indeed, many of the same projects appear in its own plan for the money — but it forced a standoff nonetheless.

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Amid criticism that Helfrich didn't do enough to seek its input on how to use American Rescue Plan Act funding, the council members stripped the funding from the 2022 budget altogether.

Then Helfrich vetoed the budget.

And council voted to override the veto.

Then, after Helfrich begged off the reorganization meeting, council stirred the pot with claims that he was not in fact mayor because he was sworn in 20 days later.

On Friday, council announced that it would go a step further by referring the matter to the offices of Attorney General Josh Shapiro and York County District Attorney Dave Sunday.

Of course, spokespeople from those offices haven't touched the issue and, curiously, the DA's office told The York Dispatch that it hasn't yet received any formal complaint.

The mind reels.

We don't want to assume bad faith here, but it's impossible to view all of this without acknowledging a whole lot of water under the bridge.

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Back in 2018, Helfrich decided he could do a better job than then-Mayor Kim Bracey and, in a very close election, the Democratic then-council president won — as a Republican.

There was a protracted fight over a criminal history and past drug use by Helfrich, just as there were when he was first elected to council years earlier. Those disputes were ultimately put to rest but ...

Helfrich ruffled feathers — feathers that, perhaps, were already primed for ruffling — with a series of political appointments made without much council input. If you remember, council initially refused (and later granted) a residency exception for Helfrich's choice of fire chief.

Then, of course, there was the controversial push to sell the city's wastewater plant — which was simultaneously a potential revenue generator and a revenue sink due to the infrastructure costs associated with its operation.

Quite honestly, this editorial board hasn't always agreed with Helfrich's policies — nor his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to governing. It's possible that some of these previous spats would've resolved faster if he'd taken a more collegial approach to council.

But these latest shenanigans are not a good look for York City Council or the mayor.

The council's main argument against Helfrich's plan for the COVID relief money was his lack of input from council and the public. But council didn't bother to gather much input for its own plan, rushing it out in the span of about a month after torpedoing Helfrich's.

Nevermind that council's plan looks a lot like Helfrich's — right down to the mayor's public safety ideas: funding for a police cadet program and so-called credible messengers, community members who work to divert youth from violence.

Likewise, the oath of office complaint feels like a petty distraction that — at least according to City Solicitor Jason Sabol — has no sound legal rationale.

Quit the malarkey.

Do better.