Big issues, easy votes for York City Council

York Dispatch editorial board

The York City Council has a big night ahead of it Tuesday.

Its agenda includes two high-profile issues: Whether to amend the city’s residency requirement to allow city government employees to live outside the city; and whether to allow the city solicitor to defend the mayor in a lawsuit challenging his right to hold office.

The two matters can be summed up in one word: No-brainers.

Let’s start with the mayor.

A group of 18 city residents filed a lawsuit last month arguing that Mayor Michael Helfrich is ineligible to serve because he didn’t take the oath of office quickly enough. Helfrich was out of town early this year and took the oath upon his return, on Jan. 24.

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Helfrich and city solicitor Jason Sabol contend the city’s code doesn’t specify a timeline. Either way, Helfrich has taken the oath and that, one would think, should have been that.

But what many would see as, at worst, a clerical technicality is viewed by the plaintiffs as a veritable impeachable offense. They’re asking a judge to remove Helfrich from office over the matter.

This is ridiculous enough. The City Council, however, has compounded the situation by dragging its feet on allowing Sabol to defend Helfrich. Because it refused to act before a hearing April 21, the mayor was forced to retain outside council to the tune of $5,000.

Equally concerning, the matter is listed as still in committee on Tuesday’s agenda, potentially further prolonging a resolution.

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

Council members have cited concerns about a conflict of interest on the part of Sabol. The solicitor should be very interested in the case, but there’s no conflict. He provided the advice that there was no deadline, and he should be able to defend it.

Frankly, the matter already has been a waste of time and an unnecessary distraction; it shouldn’t also become an additional financial burden to taxpayers. The council needs to resolve this matter, and quickly.

No-brainer No. 1: Allow Sabol to represent the mayor and, by extension, those who elected him.

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The second matter is similarly straightforward.

The council will take up a motion that would amend the city’s residency requirement, which requires all city employees to live within the city limits. (Exceptions are made for department heads and union workers.)

The proposed rule would allow city workers — nearly 100 would be affected — to live in York County or in any of the contiguous counties. We would have limited the extension solely to York County — the better to keep employees’ home purchases, sales taxes and spending dollars closer to home — but in for a dime, in for a dollar.

Feb. 15 York City Council meeting

As the past two years have shown, flexible working conditions of all sorts can be accommodated without minimizing performance. There can even be benefits in terms of inclusiveness and diversity. 

Currently, city officials say, limiting residency options not only reduces candidates for job openings, it disincentivizes current employees from continuing their careers in city government when that choice clashes with the desire to live outside the city.

Ironically, the one group of workers who whose residency in the city should be required are already exempt.

City police officers labor under no residency requirements. That’s unfortunate. A strong case can be made that living in the neighborhoods they police can increase officers’ effectiveness and dilute the “us vs. them” attitude residents too often perceive.

In fact, York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow (who is required to live in the city) just last week announced new Neighborhood Safety Patrols to increase police presence in area neighborhoods.

Having cops live in those neighborhoods would also increase their presence. But that’s an editorial for another day.

For now, No-brainer No. 2: Abolish residency requirements for city employees.