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Norwalk Councilman, at odds with NEON, urged mayoral Dems to avoid town hall

Common Council Warren Pena 010-20130409

Norwalk Common Councilman Warren Peña studies a document at a recent council meeting.

Updated, 4:33 p.m., comments from Scott Harris, Pat Wilson Pheanious, Andy Garfunkel.

NORWALK, Conn. – Tensions between South Norwalk’s mammoth community services agency and its much smaller roommate recently resulted in a call for Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidates not to attend the town hall organized by the bigger agency.

Common Councilman Warren Peña, chairman of the South Norwalk Community Center, sent an email to all of the mayoral candidates recommending that they avoid the Community Town Hall organized by Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, a source said. Three of the candidates confirmed it.

“I did get an email suggesting that it may not be a good idea to come,” Councilman Matt Miklave said.

Peña has been embroiled in a dispute with NEON over its relationship with SNCC. The two organizations share 98 South Main St., where the deed calls for SNCC to occupy the entire first floor and NEON to have the second floor, he said.

The SNCC does not pay any of the bills to the building, NEON interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious said. NEON gets millions of dollars in federal grants, while SNCC’s budget is much smaller.

Miklave couldn’t say what was in the email.

“I didn’t really spend too much time reading it,” he said. “I had committed to coming, I thought it was a great idea to meet some voters so I just took it with a grain of salt.”

District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra arrived at the forum about an hour late. He acknowledged that he had heard from Peña, but said that it had no bearing on whether or not he would attend.

“Warren sent an email, recommending the candidates not come,” he said. “But that had no precedent on whether I was going to come or not. My whole concern was we didn’t have any information what this was. We didn’t have any details.”

Mangiacopra said Tuesday that he had not been invited to the forum-like town hall. That was a problem, he said, because he definitely wanted to be there and needed to plan ahead as he had other commitments.

“Certainly South Norwalk is a constituency group that has a lot of needs,” he said. “It’s something that we wanted to make sure that I could participate in. the first time we heard about it when we read about it in the newspaper yesterday.”

NEON interim President and CEO Pat Wilson Pheanious said Wednesday evening that Mangiacopra had been sent three emails about the event. NEON Communications Director Scott Harris has only confirmed two emails to Mangiacopra, sent through the website for his Norwalk’s Future Now.

Former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel did not attend the event.

“I didn’t get notice until Norwalk Hour contacted me on Monday,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of it, really, not sure when the email went out but I don’t remember ever getting anything.”

Harris said he sent three emails to Garfunkel, on May 31, July 3 and July 5. He forwarded the May email to NancyOnNorwalk; it had been sent to Garfunkel for Mayor.

Garfunkel said Peña’s emails had nothing to do with his absence. His focus is getting the 775 signatures he needs to get in on the Sept. 10 primary.

“There’s no guarantee that I am going to be a candidate so debating the issues is not beneficial to my time,” he said, explaining that he already had plans for the evening.

Ernie Dumas, a member of the Garfunkel campaign, was there as his representative, he said.

Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said, “No comment,” when asked about the email.

Peña said Thursday that he had no comment.

“This is a non story, everyone knows how I feel about the leadership of NEON,” he said in an email.

Pheanious expressed exasperation Wednesday evening with the press and the printing of Peña’s letters to the editor on the topic of SNCC and NEON. She said, “There are so many things that are so factually untrue that it galls me.”

On Thursday afternoon, she said she was bewildered, dumbfounded and angry to hear that Peña tried to keep the candidates from coming, if it was true.

“I don’t know what to say about something about that,” she said. “This was a forum to help the community to be able to understand their choices. This was an opportunity for the mayoral candidates to touch bases with and hear from people who they might not ordinarily hear from. I guess I would really wonder what would be the motives of someone who would try to thwart that from happening.”

She said she didn’t want to speculate, but said she suspected that Peña’s email might have been the reason for Mangiacopra’s late arrival.

“I didn’t think he was coming,” she said. “I think it influenced him.”

14 comments

Norwalk Lifer August 2, 2013 at 5:42 am

Then this Pena person is just as bad as the head of the Republican party in Norwalk, such egocentric behaviour!

enough of these large mouthed bass in a small pond!

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Norwalk Lifer August 2, 2013 at 5:45 am

I am disturbed by this young man’s words:
“Certainly South Norwalk is a constituency group that has a lot of needs,” he said.

To me, this language is dehumanizing, a constituency group? ridiculous choice of words!

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Carlos C August 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

To have a politician take out their petty arguments with an agency serving the poor so blatantly is just not somethign I can agree with. This Pena is not good judgement! For his support of Mangiacopra he claims he didn’t get the email and shows up and hour late. That’s not good.

Norwalk Spectator August 2, 2013 at 9:30 am

Warren Pena is an “at large” elected official and supposed to represent the City when he’s staging a personal war against N.E.O.N.? This seems to me to be a major conflict of interest.

Al Raymond August 2, 2013 at 10:27 am

If you ask me,everyone needs to be at these meetings at NEON. I`am thinking something bad is going on there. The Mayor & all the canidates should be there to see & here what`s going on so they can make smart decisions later when needed. I say close NEON now investagate the whole organization then if needed reopen with a complete new staff. If I was incharge at NEON I would not trust anyone that has worked there in the past (tanted) I think that may be the word. To the Mayor and the canidates follow your heart but I`am telling you something smell a NEON.

NorwalkVoter August 2, 2013 at 11:21 am

NEON vs. SNCC. Who is right, who is wrong? No matter, Mr. Pena did not use good judgment in this case. Still wet behind the ears and not getting good advice. Be careful who you hang out with Warren.

Ken P Jr August 2, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I think they should all distance themselves from NEON as NEON is ignoring the states urging to do a nationwide search for a President. If we, the TAXPYERS of Norwalk & CT are going to fund things like this EVERY effort needs to be made to secure the best person for each job & to do so as cheaply as possible. Personally I think things like this should be run by volunteers & churches anyway. Its NOT the taxpayers responsability.

jlightfield August 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm

At the end of the day, if you are putting on an event, that features 5 panelists and you discover prior to the event date/time that only 1 panelist has responded to the invite, then the onus is on you to get a response. The excuse proffered by NEON points to the lack of responsiveness that has characterized the recent history with the State, with the City and with its constituents.

Osgood Schlater August 2, 2013 at 9:19 pm

What is not being discussed here, is the huge service that Neon is performing in Norwalk for people of all colors and ethnic backgounds. Just the Headstart Program alone provides more than 300 preschoolers with preparation to enter kindergarten with a big advantage over those who don’t have preschool programs. They get two meals and a snack. There are probably more hispanics in the Headstart program than African Americans.

I believe the skirmish that galls Mr. Pena is one of turf and personality clashes. Unfortunately for objectivity, Mr. Pena is related to the administrator of the South Norwalk Community Center. Nevertheless, this dispute needs to be settled quickly with renewed efforts of good will from both sides.

It is particularly harmful to hear Neon as whole being bashed, when the issue is over a relatively small space in its headquarters. Let’s get it fixed and move on.

Norwalk Lifer August 3, 2013 at 6:54 am

Dear Mr. Schlater:

Thank you for your measured comments, in reading this article and understanding the kind of conflict that Mr. Pena is engaged in, if he were an objective personality, he would recuse himself from any comments on the situation. Knowing that SNCC co-exists with NEON, tells me that petty turf wars abound here and of course, NEON has a Scarlett Letter on it’s chest right now. Would it have been better to never know the malfeasance conducted at NEON? No, it wouldn’t, but I would advise that what you speak of is the impact of such easy criticism, kids having basic and fundamental aid. I wonder what every parent would do should they put themselves in the shoes of parents who are struggling to keep body and spirit as one? No one, not one of us should believe that any human would walk by as a child is in need of food, shelter, medical attention. We should not believe that, as we are not programmed as humans to react this way. I would point out that some of our greatest spiritual walkers, on this good earth, also believed that we have an obligation to our fellow man. Using this as a tool for political gain to me, speaks of the smallest of mind of the individual; I am not impressed with the “refreshing and decorum breaking” opinion of someone who suddenly becomes the champion of those who know full well, they are not allowed, not born, and not raised to walk by those in need. To me, the discussion Mr. Pena is holding is nothing more than sound bite for the instant enlistement of those who hide their true feelings about the less fortunate, Yes, NEON has a checkered past, so did Richard Nixon, in fact, it was named “Checkers”, but he was elected President of the United States.Richard Nixon was the only person in Washington DC to cry openly and in public when JFK was assasinated. So I put it to you, if this is the land of the “second wind” where birthright is meaningless, wouldn’t NEON with a fresh administration, a new beginning deserve a second chance also? Afterall, The colonists were looking forward to a future where birthright, fiefdoms, and entitlements were not a limiting factor in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It would seem to me that everyone here who has ever made a mistake, had a bad turn, committed a now regrettable action, look into themselves and decide if walking past a hungry kid, in the town they are so proud of, so happy to live in, would be the kind of happy moment that would send them off to a blissful sleep. I know I couldn’t do that, and I won’t let the political machinations of a very ambitious young man, raw and with any annealing, to change my mind in such a manner. NEON does a lot of good for their community, have they fallen sway to nepotism and cronyism? yes, they did, BUT, remember, NEON does not have the “moat of political capital” around it like city hall does. In my view? there is nepotism, and cronyism and scapegoats in City Hall. the dismissal of a city worker charged with taking 75K from the city coffers, without an arrest, without a formal conviction, and yes, she is petitioning for the reinstatement of her employment should tell everyone here something, Joe Mann is gone, the dirty deed is out, time to fix NEON, but it’s not time to let a young and ambitious man who sees political gain to continue to tear down the foundation of organization who if they did nothing else, make sure children are fed, get proper medical care, and the opportunity to learn early thru Head Start programs.

Norwalk Lifer August 3, 2013 at 7:02 am

Dear Mr. JLightfield:

What you advocate is called “motherhood” no person who is seeking high office in this town should expect “motherhood” self motivation, leadership and accountability are the qualities of a such a position, I would call this a litmus test of those qualities. To use the excuse that the “internet dog ate my homework” is not acceptable. The very least a candidate can do is to decline the invitation. But to let such an invitation to sit idle, further disenfranchises those who are innocent, and not complicit in the actions of a few who chose to abuse the very tenets of power they held. I do apologize, but “motherhood” speaks volumes about the receipt, not the organization offering the opportunity.

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Norwalk Lifer August 3, 2013 at 7:11 am

Dear Ken P Jr:

An interesting compartmentalization of basic human qualities. The “Taxpayer” versus the “faithful flock” and the “volunteer”.

Do you also believe that those who are hit by natural disaster are “gimme, gimme, gimme” type personalities? I find this disturbing. You of course, may opt out of contributing to NEON anytime you wish, you can object to funding something that does not keep with your own individual beliefs. Just as those who refuse to fund the bombing of Cambodia did. After all, we are a nation of E Pluribus Unum unless it’s tied to a tax code. I have another idea, why don’t we make taxes a great equalizer? like a Methodist minister did in the great state of Virginia in the late 1800’s and what was that minister’s contribution? the estate tax. And the reason? because the very people who came to this land were fleeing from a environment of birthright, where single families held sway over many others thru fiefdoms and entitlements. Yes, birthright should be meaningless, and taxes, an unfortunate fact of life for those who enjoy “the commons” should be equal also. Equal rights, equal taxes, a cohesive society, BUT for those less fortunate, remember every faction of immigrant that came to this land, at one time or another were “less fortunate”. It would serve us all better to remember that. We DO celebrate it on the Fourth of July.

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Norwalk Lifer August 3, 2013 at 7:16 am

Dear Mr. Raymond:

Ah, but you forget, Innocent until proven guilty, otherwise Norwalk would have the moral equivalent of Stalin’s “great purge” at NEON. Wouldn’t you say? How about embracing the agency, and using the Retired Executive programs we have to help those who are newly minted as leaders to develop their skills? How about engaging and helping instead of completely tearing down? Was there malfeasance? you betcha!, and during Casper Weinberger’s reign as Defense Secretary, 10,000 dollar coffee pots on gimbels were being installed on fighter jets. Do I begrudge the coffee pot? no, I am question the skills and competency of those in government who thought a 10 grand coffee pot was “okay”.But no way in hell, would I advocate shutting down the Department of Defense until a coffee pot at the right price could be secured

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Jlightfield August 3, 2013 at 10:23 am

@norwalklifer. A peculiar comment regarding “motherhood” as if you purposefully ignore the root cause of the apparent communication issues at the core. Once again, any organization that wants to host an event should at the very least have a better way of inviting panelists other than invoking the “we sent an email” excuse knowing full well that they never got confirmation of a response. NEON has an admirable mission however its failings are due to not employing labor that can perform the duties entailed with managing that mission.

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