Ex-NEON board member: Stephenson got 125 percent raise last year

NEON 028-20130911
Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) interim President and CEO Chiquita Stephenson.

(Correction – The percentage of the raise is 125, not 103)

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) interim President and CEO Chiquita Stephenson received a 125 percent pay raise last year, well before before she assumed her current position, according to a former member of the Board of Directors.

In addition, members of Stephenson’s family were hired by NEON, said former board member Susan Weinberger in a Monday email in response to questions sent to several former board members. She was the lone person to respond.

Stephenson did not respond to questions about her salary and the staff additions Sunday or Monday.

NancyOnNorwalk obtained the draft of an audit being conducted by the state Department of Social Services looking into the 501c3 organization’s finances. The report paints a bleak picture of the social service agency’s viability, and says “inappropriate” raises and staff additions were among the problems.

“The draft of the NEON Audit which has been disclosed on NancyOnNorwalk contains some specific details that I, as a board member, was seeking for the entire time I served on the board,” Weinberger said. “Much of this was either not made available to us, was in too general a format or not provided at all. Several times I asked for information and my questions were not answered. This is most unfortunate and became extremely frustrating.”

In an Oct. 8 meeting, board member Jack O’Dea defended Stephenson and pointed a finger at departed board members.

“If you ask somebody a question and they don’t give you the answer you’re looking for, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t answer the question,” he said. “It just means you got an answer you didn’t either understand or you didn’t agree with.”

Stephenson said at that meeting some board members were more positive than others.

“You have a huge segment of board members that are spending their time diligently coming up with solutions, connecting their resources and connecting the dots. You have other individuals that took the information, ask them what they have done to help with the information they got. You go ahead and give a balanced budget and somebody says, ‘Oh, are you trying to give us false numbers?’”

Weinberger said Stephenson got a big raise in pay despite the agency’s financial difficulty.

“I had learned some time ago that Ms. Stephenson’s salary increased last year from $60K to $135K, which represents about a 103 percent increase in pay,” Weinberger said. “I asked about this increase and did not get an explanation. Several of her family members had been hired to work at the agency that could not sustain regular payroll. It just did not make sense to me.

“While (I was) still on the board, Ms. Stephenson was the Chief of Staff/Chief Operating Officer,” Weinberger said. “That meant, in my mind, that she was the second in command and privy to the financial trajectory of the organization.”

Stephenson became interim president and CEO in early September, replacing Pat Wilson Pheanious, who the DSS placed at the helm for 18 months after former CEO Joe Mann was forced to resign. Weinberger joined the board late last spring and resigned in early October along with three other members. She was one of nine members who have quit the board since it was put together in May to help turn around the embattled agency.

Current board chairman Michael Berkoff recently gave Stephenson a vote of confidence, saying “I … firmly believe that Chiquita Stephenson, NEON’s acting CEO and president, who has only been in her new position since September 9, will bring a new energy and respect to the agency as we embark on this exciting new venture and challenge of revitalizing NEON.”

Several of the departed board members did not share that opinion, however, including Weinberger.

“I do recall that when I voted against the selection of Ms. Stephenson to become the acting president and CEO, one of our board members replied that she should be in the position. ‘After all, she is doing all the work of the CEO anyway and has been for a long time,’” she quoted the board member as saying. “I remain confused.”

NEON’s deadline to respond to the draft audit is today. The DSS will consider NEON’s reply and any supporting evidence before issuing a final audit report.


18 responses to “Ex-NEON board member: Stephenson got 125 percent raise last year”

  1. EDR

    May I quote Casablanca……

    I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” (The croupier hands Captain Renault his money.) “…Your winnings, sir.” “Oh, thank you very much!”

    Sorry Imcould not help myself.

  2. Ark

    So where is Harry Rilling? His first and key campaign backer is Bob Burgess, former Neon Director, and his District B Committee. Has Harry condemned the mismanagement at NEON. I think not. Will he resume city funding if elected? You can bet on it. The NEON scam will continue and expand if Harry Rilling is elected

  3. WHAT?

    Can’t anyone associated with NEON do any math? Is it that hard to write an article and check the numbers? A raise from 60k to 135k represents a pay increase of 125%, just in case you didn’t think a raise of 103% was ridiculous enough.

  4. Neoscam

    All for the kids, right?

  5. SoNoCC

    Nancy, so that your readers are not in anyway confused as to any relationship between NEON and South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC), since we share the same address at 98 South Main Street, we would like to make two things perfectly clear.

    1. SoNoCC is in no way, shape or form affiliated with NEON. We are a separate 501 (c) 3 organization. Our common address has caused considerable confusion.

    2. Since assuming their positions in June of this year, both our Executive Director and Deputy Director have worked on a full-time basis without pay. Until the first phase of our renovations are completed and our “Renaissance Project” is launched this coming year, both have agreed to forego any compensation.

    We wish our neighbors at NEON the best of luck in getting their house in order. And, we applaud those who demand complete transparency in government-funded, social service agencies.

  6. Everyone from Joseph Mann (leading the indictments) down the lowliest family member of Stephenson should repay every single penny back with interest.
    Then jail Mann and Stephenson for eternity.

  7. The Norwalker

    Many hard working NEON staff who do not even make 1/4 of Stephenson’s salary have not seen a raise in years!!

    I hope those staff members do not end up paying the price for the behavior of the Senior Staff at NEON.

  8. cc-rider

    It gets stranger by the minute over there at NEON. Is anyone responsible or accountable for anything within the agency?

  9. WHAT?

    Do I have to draw a picture for everyone? Does anyone know who the following people are: Jack O’Dea, Mike Berkoff, Cynthia Bowser, Terry Adams, Elizabeth Dukes, Angela Edwards? They are all current NEON board members from Stamford. Chiquita Stephenson is from Stamford, knew them all beforehand and got them on the new board. Dale Ferguson is a current board member from Stratford, but — oh — grew up with Chiquita and has known her for 30 years. Does anyone know where the two new board members appointed last week are from? Answer: Stamford. Does anyone know how many of the 6 board members who resigned since September 23rd are from Stamford? Answer: zero. Does anyone know why they really resigned? They were under constant attack from the group hand picked to make sure that no matter what else happened to NEON, it would be run by Chiquita. Basically, anyone that thought they were signing up to bring their professional sensibilities to help run an agency in crisis were chased out when they started to ask whether Chiquita Stephenson and her high school diploma was really the right person to run an 18 million dollar organization.

  10. life-long Norwalker


  11. Lifelong Teacher

    Looks like someone found a cash cow. Are we all stupid?

  12. Question: How did Stephenson get her raise approved?
    Did someone sign off on it? It someone did, then they are also liable for HOPEFULLY whatever the Attorney General states what laws were broken.
    (but then again, she is laughing all the way to the bank with Joe Mann…)

  13. Piberman

    Where are the elected officials offering suggestions on making NEON accountable ? Oops must be election time. Time for a “photo op” on serving the people.

  14. Asa H.M.

    Well, I have to applaud now former board member Susan Weinberger for continuing to try and show FACTS while those that are supposedly still in the governance role as board members continue to think that Ms. Stephenson, “..in her new role…” will do any better than in her “old” role. Oh – which was in the finance area of NEON. If she didn’t know that they were sinking when it was her primary job, how could she possibly see it through the windshield of her new Mercedes and her fance $135,000 salary?

  15. RU4REAL

    Ark, you are kidding right?
    Associate Rilling for Neon’s troubles because of Burgess, a resident supporting him, WOW! at least wait until Rilling becomes Mayor before he gets any blame.
    Some stretch pal, desperate times, desperate measures huh?

  16. Piberman

    Striking that the CEO of the most incompetently run public funded City non-profit agency in decades now earns about the same salary as our mayor overseeing a 300 million dollar budget and 2,000 employees. Senator Duff where are you when we need you ? You were there to remove Joe Mann. Doesn’t any elected official care enough to raise a hue and cry here about such flagrant misuse of public funds ? Are the citizens served by NEON coerced into silence ? Why does our diversity community remain silent here ? Aren’t there any candidates for public office willing to acknowledge the problems here ?

  17. cue up the crickets chirping soundtrack…
    …because that is all you will hear from good ol’ Duff (unless there is a photographer around…disgusting) and the rest of the candidates.

  18. Vicki

    Why isn’t she in jail?

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