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.”