Updated 7:20 p.m. Wednesday with NEON rebuttal.
NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk mayoral forum organized for Wednesday evening by South Norwalk’s anti-poverty agency has resulted in an early promise to the community by one Democratic mayoral candidate – leadership of that agency must go.
Although NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now) NEON Communications Director Scott Harris said in a press release that all of the mayoral candidates had been invited to the Wednesday evening Community Town Hall at the Nathaniel Ely School, Will Sharry of Norwalk’s Future Now said Tuesday that neither he nor his candidate, District D Democratic Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra, knew anything about it until being contacted by a reporter.
Mangiacopra released a statement Wednesday afternoon:
“We received no invitation or information from NEON about tonight’s forum,” he said. “Once we learned about the forum Monday afternoon from a reporter call, we immediately called NEON to ask for information as we were eager to participate and discuss the pressing issues facing South Norwalk including affordable housing, police relations with the community, and the achievement gap. Unfortunately, our multiple calls and messages have not been returned.”
NEON Executive Director Pat Wilson Pheanious disputed Mangicopra’s claim Wednesday night at the event, saying three emails were sent to the Mangiacopra campaign. Harris said the first two emails went out well in advance, on May 31 and July 3, before the recent reminder.
Mangiacopra has been endorsed by Councilman Warren Peña. Peña has been embroiled in a public dispute with NEON over use of the building the agency shares with South Norwalk Community Center, a group headed by Peña. The councilman said recently that Norwalk’s elected leaders will not help NEON until there is a leadership change. Mangiacopra echoed that sentiment with the rest of his statement.
“As Mayor I will do everything in my power to help NEON as it attempts to start a new chapter in the Norwalk community, but serious changes need to be made before we can get there. I believe wholeheartedly in their stated mission of helping economically disadvantaged residents increase their self-sufficiency and improve their quality of life but NEON’s leadership has invited constant scandals to the point where their mission has become the secondary story. That is wrong. It wrongs the people who rely on NEON, it wrongs our community, it damages our city’s reputation and I do not believe that will change until the leadership of NEON changes.”
The announcement comes as NEON’s Board of Directors considers promoting NEON Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson to interim CEO and president for 18 months. The move was recommended by current interim CEO and president Pat Wilson Pheanious. Discussion of the proposal is on the agenda for NEON’s Aug. 6 board meeting, where board members plan to take the matter up in an executive session.
Board member Jack O’Dea said Stephenson has his full support. He indicated that other board members support her as well.
The matter was expected to be discussed at at July 24 board meeting, but the meeting was adjourned after 10 minutes without any action, after Chairman William Westcott said any action taken could be challenged in court as NEON was in violation of the Freedom of Information Act due to inadequate public notice. O’Dea was highly critical of that announcement, and said the meeting had been cancelled because leadership did not have the votes they wanted.