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For NEON board members, it’s ‘one day at a time’

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Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board member Alan Rossi urges at a recent board meeting that the agency management provide financial reports, which he said were not forthcoming.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s one day at a time for board members of a South Norwalk-based anti-poverty agency that is under siege.

“Challenges must be addressed, our financial house must be put in order and the needs of those we serve must be met,” said Susan Weinberger, the vice chairman of the Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board of directors, one day after Chairman William Westcott suddenly resigned.

Though former NEON interim CEO and president Pat Wilson Pheanious expressed pride in putting together of new board of directors, with 20 of 21 slots filled by people she said were concerned and dedicated, only 16 board members remain six months after the transition.

Weinberger appears to be in charge, even if the board’s power appears to be severely limited.

“Usually in any organization, when a Chairman resigns, the Vice Chair moves in to that position,” she wrote in an email. “‎I expect that is the same with NEON. We would then have to elect a new Vice Chair at the next Board meeting. For that I defer to the Governance Committee.”

Westcott cited an inability to get answers as reason for his resignation.

“For several months now, our board has been repeatedly presented with management crises which are frankly inexplicable,” Westcott wrote in his resignation letter. “Issues of paramount importance to the organization, including our financial solvency and our required compliance with state and federal laws, have been neglected, or worse, outright concealed from the board long past the point when these matters should have been brought to our attention under any reasonable management structure. When this board inquires why it is that such urgent matters were not reported earlier, we are often given explanations which, to my mind, are plainly not believable.”

NEON Communications Director Scott Harris said he had spoken to interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson Tuesday afternoon about a press inquiry about Westcott’s comments. Stephenson would call, he said. She did not.

Board member Jack O’Dea, an outspoken supporter of Stephenson, sent an email to Westcott Tuesday asking him to explain his comments. O’Dea has not reported a reply.

Board member Alan Rossi, who has argued passionately during board meetings for better financial reporting from NEON management, declined to explain why he walked out of an executive session at the last board meeting.

He expressed surprise at the most recent turn of events.

“I really don’t know why Mr. Westcott resigned,” he said.

Rossi disputed Pheanious’ reaction to his complaints. Pheanious said Rossi was looking at the financial reporting situation from the viewpoint of someone who is used to the corporate world.

“Both a non-profit and a business need to produce accurate, timely accounting,” he said. “In the case of a nonprofit, because usually non-profits get donations, in addition to being timely and comprehensive they need to be transparent. An organization cannot be managed if you don’t have the right information. Part of that is how resources are being used.”

NEON is an organization going through a difficult transition, he said. But he predicted the board would recover.

“NEON has a very important and worthy mission,” he said. “I think that organizations like NEON shouldn’t have any difficulty attracting people who want to help because of the very important nature of what NEON does.”

Weinberger attempted to strike a positive note.

“Today I am one of the members of NEON’s communication team who, along with three others, will meet with (Department of Social Services) Commissioner Bremby (DSS) in Hartford to review the procedures to move ahead with the national search for our permanent president and CEO,” she wrote. “At this juncture on the Board, I am taking one day at a time.”

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