DSS offers to fund NEON CEO search, urges halt to interim appointment

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The Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board of Directors is scheduled to discuss Tuesday the issue of appointing NEON Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson its interim CEO and president.

NORWALK, Conn. – The state of Connecticut has offered to fund a nationwide search for a new director for South Norwalk’s pressured and struggling anti-poverty agency.

Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Roderick Bremby wrote a letter dated Aug. 2 to the Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board of Directors saying that he expects a nationwide search for a new director to begin immediately. Bremby urged that the process of choosing a new leader be “impeccable and irreproachable” so as not to undo the progress the agency has made in reversing public opinion following revelations about misspent money under the leadership of former CEO and President Joe Mann, as reported by the Office of the Inspector General.

NEON interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious, whose contract with the agency ends Sept. 7, has recommended that the agency appoint NEON Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson to replace her. The board appears set to the do that, as discussing the proposal is on the agenda for Tuesday evening’s meeting and no effort has been made to find an alternative. The proposal is to appoint Stephenson for 18 months.

Pheanious said she couldn’t comment on the latest letter from Bremby, who has said before that NEON needs to conduct a nationwide search instead of appointing Stephenson.

“The board hasn’t discussed that so it’s unfair for me to comment on that,” Pheanious said. “I still say it’s an issue of timing. The board will have to decide if it’s in the agency’s interest (to follow Bremby’s recommendations).”

Bremby in his letter applauded board members who share his perspective but said he understood that some board members are intent of appointing Stephenson for an “inordinately long period of time on a supposedly interim basis.”

“I submit to you in no uncertain terms that the notion of an 18-month or 12-month or even eight-month time frame for a national executive search would fly in the face of the public confidence you are seeking to instill on behalf of NEON throughout Norwalk, Stamford and surrounding communities,” he wrote. “It simply should not take that long – and everyone knows it.”

He said that DSS is not trying to control who is appointed, but that the process of succession is “impeccable and irreproachable.”

“I urge the board as a whole to take good care to avoid any perception that the process is somehow being ‘rigged’ for any one individual,” he wrote. “If such a perception is taken as fact by the communities served by NEON, I would submit that much of the much of the progress achieved to date would be at serious risk. It is time for NEON to be scrupulously careful about its public image. It must seek to inspire full confidence among its clients, the general public, municipal and private partners, and state and federal funding agencies – all vital to the success of our collective mission of service to the community.”

Commissioner Bremby to Atty Westcott NEON Board 8-2-2013


9 responses to “DSS offers to fund NEON CEO search, urges halt to interim appointment”

  1. Vigilant

    “Impeccable + irreproachable” does not mean questionable educational credentials, repeated charges of nepotism, and ongoing allegations of financial mismanagement.

  2. Joanne Romano

    I’m willing to bet that if paychecks were determined by accountability and hard work instead of negotiated contracts things would change quickly! We all ask for positions to be put out to the public/state etc. when it comes to our police/fire/superintendent etc. Why should this request for a not for profit entity be any different? Perhaps someone who has not been involved in all the negativity of late would be the answer! Why would we want to give an interim contract for 18 months? We are losing grants and federal funding not to mention the trust of the citizens. It’s time someone with the willingness to put politics, cronyism and infighting aside to take the helm. Bring NEON back to the organization it is supposed to be. Serve the people and cut the BS…

  3. loveforthecity

    Joanne, right on!

  4. loveforthecity

    How much more does NEON need?
    Everyone out there is willing to help the organization succeed, but it seems they don’t want to help themselves.

  5. NorwalkLifer

    Well here’s one reason to support Vinny for mayor – he’s the only candidate who’s had the guts to take a position on this and call for a new CEO. The others including Rilling and Miklave have just dodged answering the question.

  6. Piberman

    NEON’s CEO search certainly contrasts with the professional BOE search. Where are the new Bd of NEON Directors here ? Why the silence of the City’s elected officials – Mayor Moccia and Common Council members ?
    NEON’s continuing difficulties speak poorly for Norwalk’s governance. Even the Democratic mayoral candidates are tongue tied. Why the silence about a City agency that aids large numbers of our citizens ?

  7. Tim T

    Joanne Romano
    Yes we did ask for the police chief position to be put out to the public/state etc. However as we all now Moccia did not do that and promoted a police chief with ZERO search for the best candidate . It seems to me that mayor Moccia has set the precedent for this.

  8. NorwalkDinosaur

    Gotta love President Pat Wilson Pheanious quote, “The board will have to decide if it’s in the agency’s interest (to follow Bremby’s recommendations).”

    No Pat, this is about the Public’s best interests and your client’s interests, NOT the board’s interests!! Last week Ms. Wilson was unable to send out invitations for a forum, this week a continuing disregard for the people who pay the bills, what will next week bring?

    @Joanne Romano, weren’t you on the Council standing next to Moccia when he stonewalled a national search for a new police chief?

  9. Joanne Romano

    NorwalkDinosaur-I don’t believe I was consulted on the chief’s position so kindly get your stories straight, Look at how the process is done, the Board of Police Commissioners appointed Kulhawik as police chief but I believe that Chief Kulhawik is doing an excellent job…My comment was merely that since everyone wants top positions put out to public/state/national search, this position obviously needs to be done this way since it seems Neon needs to be revamped but alas, it really doesn’t matter since the board chose to ignore the recommendation of DSS and the community and appointed Ms. Stephenson anyway.

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