Editorial: SoNoCC situation has, fairly or not, stained reputations of some good people

NORWALK, Conn. – The unfortunate situation at the South Norwalk Community Center has sent waves of resentment rippling through the community and has pitted various factions against each other.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story is the destruction of personal and professional relationships both within and outside of SoNoCC, and the potential fallout that reaches beyond the Center.

In the spirit of complete transparency:

  • Pat Ferrandino, who was the volunteer deputy executive director, then interim executive director for a short time before his removal by the SoNoCC Board of Directors, was among a group of people meeting in advance of forming a board of directors for NancyOnNorwalk. There had been talk of Ferrandino being the chairman of that board. The board does not yet exist. No votes have been taken, as NoN continues to operate under Englewood Edge LLC while following a rather torturous path toward becoming a 501(c)(3). When it became obvious things were coming apart at SoNoCC, he informed us off the record and withdrew from our operation.
  • Ed Camacho was among the first group of people invited to participate in forming our non-profit and serving on our board. He accepted, but after finding himself assuming the leadership of the Democratic Town Committee, he withdrew – prior to any meetings – to avoid a conflict of interest. His wife, Dede Farnsworth, agreed to join us, and continues at this time to be part of the small group that includes Jeanne Hard and Lisa Thomson. We will be adding others shortly, and will make the names public as soon as we have an official board.

Ferrandino and his wife, Marina, worked hard at SoNoCC and put in long hours for no pay for the past year under difficult circumstances. The situation was clouded by having to share the space at 98 S. Main St. with the troubled, crumbling NEON. A very public feud was carried on between SoNoCC Executive Director Warren Peña and NEON Interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious.

There also was a personality clash, from what we are told by various people, between Forero-Ferrandino and Peña. There also were reports of a growing racial divide, with the black community identifying with NEON and SoNoCC being seen increasingly as a Latino organization. That rift was increased when SoNoCC reorganized its business after discovering its legal filings required under laws governing non-profits had not been done for several years. When the reorganization was complete, the board was reduced in size and members Travis Simms and Faye Bowman, both black and both District B Common Council members, were gone.

As the rift between Peña and Forero-Ferrandino grew, Pat Ferrandino engaged in talks with the board about taking over his wife’s position, while she would become a program provider through an outside 501(c)(3) company she formed for that purpose, Impact Others. The programming would be free to the Center, paid for by grants and donations from outside. The decision was made to move forward, but things broke down ass documented in previous stories, and both Ferrandinos were told their services would no longer be required.

Since then, charges and countercharges have flown publically between the former allies. Serious allegations have been made, many of which have been refuted. Lawyers have traded public barbs online. The Ferrandinos have seemingly pursued a “scorched-earth” agenda aimed at taking down Peña and the Center.

Suffice to say, no one has covered themselves in glory through it all.

The one person who has tried to remain above the public fray is Peña, the focus of the Ferrandinos’ attacks. When protesters demanded Peña’s ouster after the board terminated its relationship with Forero-Ferrandino, Peña did not publically respond. He also declined an invitation from NoN to tell his side of the story then or later that night when Pat Ferrandino was terminated. SoNoCC’s story was relayed by Camacho, who, in the spirit of full transparency, released a packet of documents containing the Ferrandinos’ claims against Peña and the Center, Peña’s response and letter to the board making the case for terminating the couple, and other backup material. It was only after the Ferraninos’ charges were made public, with Camacho’s responses, that Peña requested his own document from the packet be posted as well.

Peña is a one-term at-large Common Council member who fell short in his re-election bid as he spent time and energy working to help Vinny Mangiacopra win the Democratic nomination for mayor. That effort fell short as well. Peña is currently challenging fellow Democrat and four-term incumbent Bruce Morris for the Democratic slot on the November ballot for state representative in the 140th District. Morris won the party backing in May.

Peña, who grew up in South Norwalk, is heavily involved in organizing the Latino community and has been the driving force behind LULAC Council 703 (League of United Latin American Citizens) and LUC (Latinos Unidos de Connecticut).

Despite a brash, sometimes aggressive manner – or perhaps because of it – Peña has become the most visible Latino community leader in a city in which the Latinos represent the fastest-growing demographic. Another leading member of the city’s Latino community, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that, although he can be a polarizing figure, Peña is the leader the community needs to move forward.

And that is why this entire situation is so sad. It has stained the reputations of good people, whose intent was to do good for a substantial segment of Norwalk’s population – those who need voice in our democracy and those who simply need help getting by from day to day.


24 responses to “Editorial: SoNoCC situation has, fairly or not, stained reputations of some good people”

  1. P. White

    This post doesn’t make any sense, unless it is viewed from the context of someone who is trying not to burn any bridges. Walking a fine line between informing and brown nosing, which we are not accustomed to seeing here at NoN.

  2. Dede

    It is so great to read this ant-inflammatory piece. While The News can be polarizing and and exciting, it is always tragic when people’s good works and intentions become distorted by vendetta for specific agendas and or revenge. This piece helps to clarify things as the dust settle and forward progress is made at the SoNoCC. It was also nice to see some accolades for Mr Pena who’s passion for Norwalk and its people is quite evident.

  3. One and Done.

    When your mission is helping poor, disadvantaged people and you are spending thousands on lavish meals for yourself and God knows what other nefarious fraudulent expenses….then your reputation deserves tarnishing.

  4. Tim D

    You might want to fix this misspelled word “but things broke down ass documented”.

  5. Scott Kimmich

    I know Warren Pena as a man of great energy and integrity, as well as a person skilled in financial matters. Unfortunately, I am unacquainted with either Ferraro or Ferrandino. It is my understanding that the contention within ghe SoNoCC (and with Neon) was mainly about the community room, that I believe was from the start administered by SoNoCC. It had nothing to do with the pre-school educational facilities at Nathaniel Ely and Benjsamin Franklin schols, which in the opinion of many were well managed and served the community well. It is also my understanding that the mismanagement of funds etc, took place at the administrative level of Neon, not with the professionals who ran the Headstart and School Readiness programs. One of the inevitable contentions that occurred between the African-American and Hispanic communities is based on a demographic change in population, with the Hispanics now outnumbering African-Americans, leading to an unprecedented shift in funding, etc. that is not the fault of Hispanic leaders per se, and which rubs salts in the age-old wounds of the black community, which tends to get the hindmost of society’s tit. I believe Mr. Chapman is right in decrying this split among groups that could be making common cause instead of creating new rifts. I am encouraged that the Distric 2 has abandoned putting up totally unqualified candidates such as Carvin Hilyard, who set back Norwalk and his own constituency for years.

  6. Dawn

    is the Joe Mann that ran Neon into the ground while bilking the agency for who knows how much money the same Joe Mann that is not the Chairman of the Board at the Norwalk Community Health Center? The Hour article I read named him as Joseph E. Mann.

    1. Mark Chapman



  7. Dawn

    So are you the only crack journalist we have around here looking into why a seemingly decent organization is bothering to have the PARRIAH OF NON-PROFITS as ther chairman of the board.
    let me say again…. OMG

  8. Bill

    I know Pena very well, and I have never seen Pena worry about anyone but himself. The allegations made by two volunteers who put in a year of work unpaid further corroborates the fact that Mr. Pena only cares about his own political career, i.e. his own pocketbook.

  9. EveT

    @Dawn, did you mean “now” instead of “not”?
    “…the same Joe Mann that is not the Chairman of the Board at the Norwalk Community Health Center”?

  10. EveT

    I thought Joe and Nellie Mann announced publicly in April that they were moving to North Carolina because they could not find affordable housing in Norwalk.

    “A longtime community and church leader, Mann has searched for a viable financial way for her and her ailing husband Joseph Mann Sr., 74, to remain in Norwalk.”


  11. ScopeonNorwalk

    @ Dawn and Mark: It doesn’t say Chairman of the Board it says Chairman of the Search Committee in The Hour…

    Just because Joe Mann made mistakes in his past doesn’t mean he has to roll over and die. You live, you learn. He’s actually started over since then taking on small responsibilities to attempt to rebuild his image.

    Since you brought up Joe, it’s ironic that Pena, who yelled and screamed about mismanagement of funds when it was NEON, swept his Aunt’s mismanagement of funds under the rug and misspent funds himself.

    Joe Mann used NEON funds for Gas for personal trips and so did Pena.

    Under Joe Mann, NEON funds were spent on Political Activities and so was SONO CC funds under Pena.

    Two people who let Power get to them but, if they are able to bounce back and do the right thing, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    1. Mark Chapman


      We prefer to do our own research, and I gave a quick answer to Dawn based on Mr. Mann’s Wikipedia page — never a trusted first source. The page lists him as chairman. However, his Linked-In page lists him as vice chairman and a member of the board for 9 years. He is also listed as a member of the Norwalk Hospital Board of Trustees for nine years. We are in the process of trying to confirm the details (that is, make sure that is current) with Norwalk Community Health.

  12. Casey Smith

    “Distric 2 has abandoned putting up totally unqualified candidates such as Carvin Hilyard, who set back Norwalk and his own constituency for years.”
    Mr. Kimmich – I was sorry to see, but not surprise by your attack on Mr. Hilliard, who served a number of years on the Common Council and has moved out of state.
    First of all, let me ask if you live in District 2? Seems to me that he was elected by the residents of District 2 a number of times. I happen to have a copy of the Council listings for 2006, 2009 and 2011. Mr. Hilliard’s name appears on all of them. I also believe that he served in the years between 2006 and 2012 and possibly before.
    Secondly, I’d be interested to know if your statement that Mr. Hilliard “set back Norwalk and his own constituency” is based on fact (and if so, please post where I can find that information) or is strictly your opinion.
    Exactly how was Mr. Hilliard “unqualified”? He had more experience on the Council than many I could name, but I’d be interested in the particulars.
    Finally, I would like to know exactly how Mr. Hilliard “set back” District 2. Once again, I’d be interested in knowing the particulars on this issue.

  13. Susan Wallerstein

    @ Eve T. Nellie Mann’s husband, Joe Mann, is not the same person though related to the younger Joe Mann who previously led NEON and holds/has held other board positions with local organizations.

  14. Carlos Rodriguez

    @Scope aka Ms. Bowman your posts are exactly alike, do a better job at writing differently or something. The only thing Pena did wrong was support the wrong people, from you to the Ferrandino’s. Hope he learned his lesson.

  15. Bill

    Pena was wrong to only look out for Pena, not the children. Pena and Mann are one and the same.

  16. New Era

    it is truly a shame that we still can’t look pass this situation. it is time to see what is next for community center.

  17. Bill

    @New Era, as long as Pena and his family are in charge of SoNoCC, 1/2 the latino community in Norwalk will not just “look pass this situation”. They do not trust this guy.

  18. Carlos Rodriguez

    Bill, you sound a lot like Pat Ferrandino. It is pretty easy to tell who is who on this site.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Actually it is not. We can say Bill is not Pat Ferrandino. Most guesses people make about identities are wrong.

  19. Bill

    Yes, the Chapmans probably know my identity, but no one else ever will, and that is what is great about anonymity, you can say what you want (without being slanderous obviously), and shine light on possible corruption without losing friendships. I am for an open and transparent Norwalk, with leaders who are accountable to the citizens of Norwalk, not their own pocketbook, nor corporate or union cronies.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Actually, Bill, we don’t know who you are. And even if we did, we do not divulge identities.

  20. Bill

    I appreciate the respect for anonymity and good journalism at this website.

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