Hamden's Leng wanted security guards to do COVID-19 screenings. Council said no.

Photo of Meghan Friedmann

HAMDEN — In the wake of a disagreement over a plan to hire security guards for COVID-19 screenings, Hamden’s town buildings have begun reopening to the public.

Last spring, Hamden joined municipalities across the state and closed the doors of its government buildings due to the threat of COVID-19. But as other town halls and libraries reopened with restrictions, Hamden’s remained shut.

When asked about the lengthy closure, Mayor Curt Balzano Leng issued a statement suggesting the town never missed “so much as a day of essential services.”

The food bank did not stop operating; police, fire and public works continued to do their jobs, he said.

“Many departments adjusted how they do business, but provided effective service under tough circumstances,” Leng continued.

This spring, town buildings at last looked to reopen their doors to in-person visits. In early April, the Hamden Public Library announced it would allow limited browsing hours at its main location starting early this week.

But that plan was put on hold Monday after the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee rejected a $24,000 proposal from the administration to hire security guards to monitor building entrances. While stressing the importance of the reopening, council and committee members did not think security guards were a necessary part of it, according to meeting footage available on the town website.

“I don’t think we need it. I think this is spending that is not necessary,” Chairwoman Kristin Dolan told her colleagues, adding she also did not support use of a bid waiver.

The administration’s proposal would have issued a bid waiver to hire the East Haven-based firm Investigative Consultants LLC to post guards at the entrances of the Keefe Community Center, Hamden Government Center and the Miller Library Complex, according to a memo from the mayor.

The agreement would have lasted through June 30, per the memo, which is attached to the meeting agenda and available online. If the services were approved for the next fiscal year’s budget, the administration would have gone out to bid, the memo says.

When asked about the bid waiver during the meeting, Finance Director Scott Jackson said Investigative Consultants offered a “remarkably lower” price compared to statewide bid numbers.

Dolan disputed that contention, saying that she had seen services offered at lower costs. Others, such as Councilman Adrian Webber, asked why the town needed security guards instead of regular plainclothes greeters, while Councilman Austin Cesare said the town simply could post signage alerting visitors to COVID-19 protocols.

“I don’t see the need for this,” Cesare said of the proposal. “I think it’s a waste of money and I won’t be supporting it.”

Councilman Jeron Alston shared another concern when he asked if the town had decided what authority the guards would have and if they would be able to prevent people from entering town buildings.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Pat Perrotti, Hamden’s risk manager, spoke to committee members about the reasons behind the proposal.

When he went to get his second dose of the vaccine, Jackson said, a member of the National Guard met him at the door, took his temperature and told him what to expect.

“That made me feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “We want to make our customers feel safe. We want to make them secure. We want to give a level of security to our employees, and having some checkpoint makes that happen.”

Jackson stressed the guards would not be armed. They would be responsible for taking visitors’ temperatures and asking about COVID symptoms, he said.

Perrotti said the proposal was about safety.

“It’s about keeping everyone safe, keeping everything controlled,” he said. “This is a big step for us. … We just wanna make sure we get it right.”

The committee members seemed unconvinced by the administrators’ arguments, unanimously rejecting the proposal.

Leng said the town began reworking its plans following the committee decision, adding that there would be “less than a one week delay.”

The first of several departments to resume onsite services in a year is the Miller Memorial Library, which starting Thursday is allowing visits from the mask-wearing public weekdays between 2 and 6 p.m., according to an announcement on social media that includes detailed guidelines.

Government center and other departments will reopen over the next week, Leng has said.

“Hamden remains vigilant to the pandemic, because sadly while we are making great progress with vaccination and greatly improved health and safety practices ... to say it’s over and that we are or should be business as usual, would be untruthful,” Leng said in a written statement, citing the variant strains that have caused widespread concern.

Wearing face coverings, social distancing and vaccinations remain “essential,” according to the mayor.

meghan.friedmann@hearstmediact.com