New Haven’s crisis management could soon get a boost from the outside.
New Haven is one of several candidate cities in the running to receive a $500,000 award from the Rockefeller Foundation to hire a chief resilience officer — an official who will assess the city’s needs and provide “crisis management assistance.” On Dec. 3, the Foundation will select the 30 winning cities from an international applicant pool and provide them with the award to appoint and pay the salary and program expenses of chief resilience officers.
According to Mendi Blue, New Haven’s director of policy and development, these officers will work with mayors and other high-ranking city officials for at least two years to develop a plan to address each city’s major problems. The effort is part of a larger Rockefeller Foundation project titled “100 Resilient Cities,” which sends in resilience officers to better prepare city officials in tackling urban, social and environmental issues.
“We are thinking of resiliency in a very holistic way,” Blue said. “It doesn’t just mean being resilient to emergencies. It also means being resilient to chronic problems that might occur in a city.”
Blue said potential issues the officer would work to address in New Haven include economic shocks, coastal erosion, homelessness and urban poverty. She added that New Haven had applied for the award in partnership with Bridgeport and Stamford, so the officer would likely focus on issues that affect all three cities.
Yesterday, Blue, who finalized the Elm City’s application for the award, addressed the Board of Alders’s Finance Committee. She requested that they authorize New Haven’s application and approve its implementation if the city is chosen for the award in early December. Blue underscored that the city would not incur any costs by adding this position, and stressed that the foundation’s interest in New Haven could invite other organizations to invest in the Elm City.
The alders agreed that the award could help the city — Ward 9 Alder Jessica Holmes called it a “win-win situation” — but raised concerns about the ambiguity of its implementation.
“As long as nothing is coming out of my pocket or the taxpayers’ pockets, I’m okay with approving this,” Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa said.
Ward 15 Alder Ernie Santiago echoed Festa, saying the resilience officer seemed like a “free lunch” for the city.
But others were less optimistic.
“This is almost like they’re asking to use [New Haven] as a guinea pig for research,” Board of Alders President and Ward 5 Alder Jorge Perez said. “I’ve been here long enough to know that these things don’t always work out.”
The alders on the finance committee unanimously approved the city’s application for the award but asked that the issue be brought back to the alders for further debate if New Haven is chosen as one of the finalists — a compromise championed by Perez and Ward 17 Alder Alphonse Padillo.
Following the vote, the alders raised several lingering questions about the award.
“I do agree that the Rockefeller’s interest in New Haven is a good thing. At the very least, it’ll be some healthy competition for ‘Mother Yale’ over there,” Perez said. “But I’m not 100 percent sure what we’re approving.”
Holmes echoed Perez’s sentiment, saying the goal of the project did not seem focused. She added that the alders should not sign-off without knowing what tangible effects the officer would have on the city.
The alders asked Blue to return with specific details regarding the Chief Resilience Officer’s duties. But Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison said that Blue and Rockefeller Foundation would most likely not know what the officer’s work would focus on, considering the officer will need to first survey the city to see what specific tasks they will take to address urban issues.
Despite some skepticism amongs the alders, the deans of the Yale School of Public Health and the Yale School of Forestry said, when asked by Blue and the city’s Office of Policy and Development, that they would work with a resilience officer if New Haven were chosen as one of the finalists.
Blue also assured the alders that they would have a say in the process. In New Haven is selected, the board will have the opportunity to work with the Rockefeller Foundation in selecting the chief resilience officer and cooperate with the officer during the both the city assessment and crisis management plan development stages.
The 100 Resilient Cities project has already selected 33 cities, including eight U.S. cities, from its first round of applications last December.