OP-ED: Here's why York City Council didn't act on mayor's choice

Judy A. Ritter-Dickson
York City Councilwoman
York City Council members, from left, President Henry Nixon, Judy Ritter-Dixon and Edquina Washington participate in a York City Council town hall meeting at Logos Academy in York City, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

This letter is in response to the article titled “Without York City Council backing, Given returns to chief of staff” printed in the York Dispatch on Sept. 2, 2020.

When asked what my thoughts were on appointing Philip Given, the mayor’s chief of staff, to the position of director of economic and community development, my immediate thoughts were Mr. Given is an intelligent, kind, innovative person who returns calls and responds immediately to requests. However, Mr. Given does not have a college degree.

More:Without York City Council backing, Given returns to chief of staff

More:Delay of Given's director confirmation vote remains a mystery

After reading the article mentioned earlier wherein Mayor Helfrich detailed many of Mr. Given’s accomplishments as acting director and cited council’s lack of votes to support his appointment to the position — in the words of my elder, “It didn’t set well with me.”

To give you some background, Mayor Helfrich appointed Mr. Given as acting director in April 2019, which did not require Council approval. The job qualifications issued directly from the administration clearly states that the person to hold this position must at minimum have a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, Regional City and Urban Planning, Business Administration, Finance or related field and over five years up to and including seven years as a Director of Economic and Community Development or as an Assistant Director.

Knowing all of this, is Mr. Given qualified for this position? With no degree, the long and short answer is, no, Mr. Given does not meet the minimum qualifications to fill this position.

In a conversation with Council President Henry Nixon, I told him I had to have every degree known to man just to get noticed. He replied, “Let’s just be honest, Judy, you’re a black woman.” The sad thing about his honesty is that it was absolutely true. As black people, especially black women, we have always had to do more in hopes of getting ahead and securing our future.

Having been born and raised in the City of York, I have had my share of rejections, and missed promotions and job opportunities because I didn’t have a college degree. So I applied myself and obtained a master’s in Human Services, a bachelor’s in Human Development & Family Studies and a paralegal certification.

I had multiple conversations with Mr. Given suggesting he work on obtaining a degree, but his answer was always “I don’t have time.”

So in response to President Nixon’s comment, I replied, “I guess I’m just supposed to grant Mr. Given white privilege then?”

As the committee chairperson to the Department of Economic & Community Development, Mayor Helfrich never took the time to discuss with me his recommendation to appoint Mr. Given as director of Economic & Community Development but chose to instead publicly force his recommendation on council, expecting the level of societal advantage that comes with being white in America.

Mayor Helfrich, how dare you put council in this position and then point blame at council knowing full well that Mr. Given did not meet the minimum qualifications for this position? At a time when black and brown people are becoming more vocal about our experiences and how they differ from those of our white counterparts, I say to you fair’s fair.