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Berkoff: NEON can go on

Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board Chairman Mike Berkoff, left, and board member Jack O’Dea deal with problems at the troubled agency last November.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) can continue to operate with only five board members, board Chairman Mike Berkoff said Sunday.

“We want to move this thing forward. We have the ability to move forward,” he said. There will be grants, he said.

Berkoff confirmed many allegations made last week by board secretary Dale Ferguson but firmly stated that she is not a board member as she does not live or work in NEON’s catchment area. That would have been discussed Wednesday, but there weren’t enough members present for a quorum.

It had been eight weeks since the last board meeting. NEON bylaws call for a board meeting at least every 10 weeks.

“We really thought we’d be able to have a board meeting,” Berkoff said. “We’re working right now with legal counsel to figure out how we operate.”

He suggested Wednesday that NEON might go into emergency status. Legal research has since shown that NEON can go into executive session with five board members, he said.

“We believe we can do almost everything but swear in new members,” he said.

State law requires a CAP agency to have a board consisting of not more than 51 and not fewer than 15 members. The list of board members has been removed from the NEON website. Minutes of the November board meeting list 15 members: Michael Geake, Angela Edwards, Elizabeth Dukes, Katherine Williams, Paola Ochoa, Elda Mas, Terry Adams, Samuel Delgado, Nick Tarzia, O’Dea, Berkoff, Bowser, Peterson, Parker and Ferguson.

Parker, Peterson, Mas, Williams and Geake represent Norwalk, according to NEON paperwork. Ferguson, Robin Peterson and Vanessa Parker have been notified that they are no longer on the board.

Ferguson said Mas hasn’t been to a board meeting since May. Berkoff said he has never met Mas. Berkoff said he hasn’t heard from Delgado in a while, confirming Ferguson’s report that Delgado has dropped out.

Berkoff confirmed Ferguson’s story: there was a Stamford woman at Wednesday’s meeting to be presented as a potential board member. Nick Tarzia, who was appointed to the board in November, was there to be sworn in as well, but in the absence of a quorum neither thing happened.

“It’s just unbelievable that these people that are sitting on the board don’t come to these meetings,” Berkoff said. “They are there to shoot us down (but they don’t come to move things along).”

But he expressed frustration with the people who are arriving to spend their time on the struggling non-profit, which is teetering on bankruptcy in the wake of bounced paychecks in November, described by Berkoff as “the debacle.”

“The problem is that the people that are there are not looking to move things forward,” he said. “Instead of spending the time rehashing then to now and going back it’s very important that we spend the time going forward.”

He then recited the history that has taken NEON to where it is today, beginning with the merger with CTE of Stamford.

“It took them a year to get the company running as one but they were running double payrolls,” he said.

That ate into resources. Then-Mayor Richard Moccia withheld $1.3 million in funding for two years, a $2.6 million loss.

“You had a board there, management then wasn’t smart enough to make the decision to cut their programs, out of the goodness of their hearts or maybe thinking someone would come up with the money,” he said. “It hit the wall back in October. It wasn’t because of Chiquita (Stephenson).”

Nobody was giving the board accounting information, he said, naming then Chief Operating Officer Stephenson and then-interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious.

“They should have had their numbers and their cash flow straight. It should have been done monthly or quarterly,” he said. “…The issue is if this were to be run like a business and were fiscally responsible it wouldn’t be where it is today.”

NEON’s website sports a new title: “NEON of Stamford (Formerly CTE).”

“There has been no name change,” said Berkoff,  who said he was surprised to see the title and promised to find out where that came from.

Yes, it appears that the W2’s were sent out late, he said.

NEON had been using ADP Payroll services but there was an issue because ADP was trying to access the money in the account. There was a tax payment that couldn’t be pulled in order to transmit the checks, he said. ADP dropped NEON.

NEON enlisted Charles Hoffler & Associates in Waterbury, he said. The W2’s were processed at Hoffler-Smith Accounting and Financial Services in Sicklerville, N.J., a sister company of the Waterbury firm, he said.

“From what I understand, they’re late. We’re looking into getting an answer. I should have something this week back from them,” Berkoff said.

Berkoff joined the board in July because NEON has good services that are needed, he said.

“It takes a few months to understand all the legal paperwork,” he said. “It really isn’t until now that I fully understand what is going on. … I don’t think the people who sit on the board were ever briefed on all the legal documentation that you need to do.”

Comments

16 responses to “Berkoff: NEON can go on”

  1. anonymous

    Didn’t agree with many things Moccia did, but withholding funding from NEON for last 2 years was one of them

  2. The Norwalker

    And for 2 years NEON Management was “borrowing” funds from other programs to pay for unfunded programs. This is the primary reason that NEON crashed.

  3. WOW!

    “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” Enough with the excuses as to why NEON is in the mess that it is today. The fact is: it’s a big friggen MESS! Now, Berkoff pretends that he can operate NEON with a five-member board. There is nothing in the State Statutes that allows a Community Action Agency to operate with only a five-member Board. Fifteen is the minimum! The DSS needs to shut NEON down!!! Funders would be crazy to give NEON a dime. Any government agency would be acting negligently in giving taxpayer money to such a dysfunctional entity.

  4. Piberman

    So the Board has just 5 members. Pretty embarrassing. Maybe it should offer to resign and let City officials manage NEON until a new Board can be organized. They could hardly do worse.
    I think.

  5. tired of negativity

    @ wow, do you not realize that the people employed by NEON are also tax payers and deserve to keep their jobs. The majority of NEON’S money comes from grants, the C.S.B.G. money is federal money allotted from federal money, which again if it is taxpayers money the workers would have contributed to that also, and all they want is to get their jobs back, feed their children and maybe get a car, since many of the workers have lost their cars and homes behind this fiasco.
    NEON provides a great service to the city of Norwalk and lower Fairfield county and we as tax payers should do everything possible to make sure it continues to exist.

  6. Confused

    @ tired of negativity. You said it best in your name. NEON as we know it now has been all negativity. What NEON stands for is GREAT. Let’s get some leaders that are honest and Great!!!!! to LEAD NOT FEED THEIR OWN PURPOSE. NEON UNDER A NEW NAME AND LEADERSHIP CAN BE GREAT AGAIN. IT STARTS WITH A PRAYER.

  7. WOW!

    NEON is a failure and has been a failure for many, many years. Its management has failed its employees and its community. NEON is part of a network of 11 Community Action Agencies in Connecticut that receives $330 MILLION dollars annually in government grants, an average of $30 MILLION per agency. Every single service that NEON should be providing can be administered by other much more competent and efficient agencies in Norwalk. Those who performed their jobs admirably at NEON would not have to worry since the other agencies would need to add to their staff in performing the services. Self-interest is the motivation behind keeping this dysfunctional agency alive, rather than focusing on the interests of those in need of the services. I pray that NEON may rest in peace, for the good of those who deserve to be better served. AMEN..

  8. tired of negativity

    Thanks confused you are right on point @ wow, the other agencies only want parts and pieces,they will never agree to take on the clientele NEON HAS. NEON HAS PROVIDES JOBS, JOB TRAINING, SOCIAL SERVICES, ENERGY, GED, DAYCARE, HOUSING ASSISTANCE, ASSISTANCE WITH MEDICAL APPLICATIONS, ASSISTANCE FOR THE elderly, disabled, homeless, and drug addiction.
    Not to mention NEON ran the best A.I.C program in the area, and let’s not forget NEON’S CHILDCARE program, a program which everyone is going to find out is not as easy to run.
    NEON had other programs but WOW, I hope you get the picture.

  9. tired of negativity

    @ WOW wanting to keep NEON open for the people within the community would hardly make this become an issue of self interest.
    As far as other agencies looking to staff more people, haven’t you noticed money for non- profits was cut most agencies can’t take on new people, NEON IS NOT THE ONLY C.a.a.agency having difficulties and Fairfield County doesn’t seem to be hiring people with degrees.

  10. Piberman

    Granted that NEON offered vital services the real issue might well be why City officials and state legislators have not intervened to ensure the well functioning of this important agency.
    City officials can get involved with a Rowayton Bridge or BJs. But not when our least advantaged citizens are involved. Wonder why ?

  11. NeitherRunNorwalk

    Regarding Executive Session, doesn’t the full board usually have to vote to go into executive session? They may have to recruit a full board (minimum of 15 members) first. More legal research required?

  12. WOW!

    @Tired of Negativity and/or @ Confused:
    You are completely correct when you point out that funding for non-profits is less than desirable. This is all the more reason why NEON should not be allowed to continue. $4 million in debt means that before any program for the needy, such as the ones you’ve listed, is funded, taxpayer money would need to be paid to bail NEON out of debt. That would be unconscionable. And why do all of the services need to be provided out of only one agency? Ever hear the expression, “Jack of all trades, master of none?” NEON has proven itself to be dysfunctional, if not corrupt. It is non-compliant with State Statutes for a Community Action Agency. When you mention other community action agencies being in a similar mess, you’re just confirming my point. Danbury’s CAA, (Waterbury’s CAA?) and NEON need to be put to rest. Every one of the Programs that you’ve mentioned can, and should, be placed in the hands of other more competent and more efficient agencies.

  13. Piberman

    WOW

    Can you identify for the well functioning nearby agencies that could successfully absorb NEON’s programs ? See any problem with City officials and legislators keeping hands off ?
    Maybe some citizens are less equal than others.

  14. The Norwalker

    I think that NEON failure comes from it’s Senior Management failure to adhere to some basic Accounting and Management Principles.

    If NEON had been operating at 100% at the management level, I know that some of F Fairfield County’s Corporate community would have reached out to give advanced training to NEON Employees.

    The State does do a disservice to Agencies in Fairfield County when you look at the cost of operating in this area, but Agencies from Greenwich to Bridgeport to Danbury have to deal with this.

  15. WOW!

    @Piberman:
    Without divulging the names of the various local non-profit organizations involved, due to confidentiality constraints, I can assure you that a consortium of agencies is preparing a proposal to the DSS to replace NEON as the Community Action Agency for the greater Norwalk catchment area. These organizations have the expertise and professionalism to operate all of the programs that “@tired of negativity” has identified up above, and more! Stay tuned!

  16. The Norwalker

    I am not sure about how much Grant Writing that NEON did (another responsibility of management), but successful Non-Profits need a large and diverse funding base. Like NEON too many Non-profits look for the large grants and do not bother with the $1k to $5k grants.

    An Example the Doe Fund in New York City uses numerous Individual, Foundation and Corporate funding to spread out their income base like you would with a investment.

    http://www.doe.org/supporters.cfm

    In NEON’s case the initial loss of Headstart Funding destabilized the Agency, but could have been handled. When the State pulled their Funding this announced the end of NEON, only a miracle could save them now.

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