Daniel Zhao

In a meeting moved up from its original April 6 scheduled date, the Board of Alders on Thursday unanimously passed four COVID-19 resolutions and granted an indemnification order request from Mayor Justin Elicker, allowing him more latitude in pursuing local partnerships to address the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

The alders’ resolutions extended support and gratitude to New Haven’s frontline workers — from hospital staff to truck drivers — and showed solidarity with low-income workers. The alders additionally urged Elm City residents to comply with social distancing requirements and called on public and private agencies alike to provide “immediate financial relief and assistance” to those impacted by the current economic downturn. While none of these resolutions include specific provisions to address the effects of the pandemic, the alders responded affirmatively to Elicker’s request for an indemnification order. The order allows the mayor to enter into any necessary agreements to address the COVID-19 public health crisis, including those that require the city to assume financial liability. 

“It is important that at this difficult time we give the mayor and [his] leadership the authority they need to protect our residents,” Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa said on Thursday. 

Elicker said on Wednesday that the indemnification order was born of negotiations with the University of New Haven, which agreed to clear 150 to 170 dorm rooms for public safety officers who need a place to self-isolate while awaiting COVID-19 test results. The dorms will not be used to house those who test positive for the disease. 

By granting indemnification to UNH, the city will assume the financial liability that arises “directly from actions of the City of New Haven, its officials or employees,” provided that the indemnified party does not already have statutory protection, according to Elicker’s letter to the board. In an FAQ facts sheet issued to the Office of Legislative Services, the mayor’s office clarified that the order obligates the city to defend in court any claims against UNH — or other indemnified parties — and make any settlement or post-trial payments. Broadly speaking, this means that UNH can expect not to incur financial costs as a result of meeting the city’s housing request. 

“[The indemnification order] was part of our negotiations with the University of New Haven,” Elicker said in a Wednesday press conference. “It’s an understandable request and a pretty typical request. We’re asking them to house public safety employees, and they wanted us to indemnify them if there was any lawsuit related to that activity.”

While Elicker requested indemnification authorization with UNH in mind, the order allows the city to indemnify any outside parties that assist with its COVID-19 response. By using sweeping language in the order, the city will be able to more quickly enter future agreements with partner organizations that have legal concerns similar to those of UNH, Elicker explained. 

While the city does not have any other partners lined up at the moment, Elicker anticipates using the indemnification order to expedite future agreements throughout the rapidly evolving public health crisis. 

For example, this would allow the mayor to indemnify institutions like Yale in the event that the University houses public safety officers or homeless individuals. After initially declining the mayor’s public safety officer housing request and facing public backlash, President Peter Salovey said that the University would clear 300 dorms — a housing resource that Elicker has said he appreciates but does not have set plans to utilize. 

In an open letter with over 1,200 signatories, a group of Yale students and New Haven residents have issued a call for the University to house homeless individuals. Elicker has not requested a homeless housing partnership with the University and does not have current plans to pursue such an agreement. 

Outside of the COVID-19 crisis, New Haven often indemnifies parties that provide grants to the city, according to the FAQ sheet. In the past, those parties have included the State of Connecticut and Gilead, a “California-based pharmaceutical company that is providing a grant to the City for a Health Department project.”

Unless extended, the indemnification order will expire on Sept. 27.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu