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Jackson: NEON board members did not act in agency’s best interests

Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) transitional CEO and President the Rev. Tommie Jackson, left; NEON board member Dale Ferguson, right.

Updated, 1:53 p.m.: Ferguson info about Elizabeth Dukes and Sam Delgado. 

NORWALK, Conn. – There appears to be an effort to beef up the insufficient board of directors at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON), even if one exiled board member says it hasn’t been done in the right way.

Dale Ferguson, a Stratford woman who was notified recently that she was no longer on the NEON board, attended Wednesday’s attempted board meeting anyway. Ferguson reports that there was a new woman at Wednesday’s aborted meeting, who said she was there to join the board. That was news to her, because Ferguson says she is on the governance committee, which hasn’t met, she said.

There was no showdown as Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board Chairman Mike Berkoff called the meeting off in the absence of a quorum, about half an hour after it was supposed to begin. Ferguson left immediately without comment.

She remains defiant, citing NEON bylaws as she defends her right to be on the board. There are other board irregularities, she said Friday: In addition to board members who have not been sworn in, one board member has not attended any meetings since May, she said.

Berkoff did not return a request for comment.

Ferguson should never have been on the board, according to the by-laws, NEON transitional CEO and President the Rev. Tommie Jackson said Wednesday.

“The question regarding Miss Ferguson was raised in December 2013,” Jackson said. “I said to Miss Ferguson … ‘You are not a member because you make the board non-compliant.’”

The board must, by state law, be tripartite: composed of one third elected officials or their representatives, one third members of the low income community and one third business people.

Ferguson has changed her status at least twice, Jackson said. In May 2013 she was listed as community/low income. In July 2013 she was listed as business. He had paperwork to prove it.

Ferguson lives in Stratford and works in Bridgeport, Jackson said.

“In any situation, under the bylaws you should live within the catchment area served by NEON, by the CAP agency. She does not live in the area served by the CAP agency or work in the area served by the CAP agency,” he said.

Board members Robin Peterson and Vanessa Parker have also been notified that they were no longer on the board. “That’s related to behavior that was not in the best interest of the CAP (Community Action Program) agency, not in the best interest of NEON,” Jackson said.

Berkoff has the “prerogative to take executive action in that context,” Jackson said.

Jackson did not elaborate on the problem with Parker and Peterson.

Peterson, Parker and Ferguson signed a letter that was sent to Gov. Dannel Malloy, asking for an investigation into “the interference and sabotage of NEON by local, state and federal elected officials.”

“The board of directors and chosen leadership are outraged because it seems as though we were set up to take the fall for past board of directors, leadership, grantors and elected officials that failed to provide adequate monitoring, technical assistance and oversight for several decades,” the letter said. “Governor Malloy this board and its leadership worked hard to develop policies, procedures, implement regulations, develop trainings for staff and board members and eliminate deficiencies. We ask you Governor Malloy, why have our new board of directors, management team and staff facilitate all these corrective actions if; your intentions were to dismantle the organization from the start? … At the present time, it is the fault of DSS (Department of Social Service) and its Commissioner that NEON has lost its programs and services and innocent people have paid and astronomical cost. We the board would like to right the wrongs that have been made …”

Board member Cynthia Bowser was also listed as a signatory of the letter. Bowser said Wednesday that she did not know the contents of the letter. She told other board members that she had attended meetings where those topics were discussed but that she had not agreed to sign a letter.

O’Dea said she was asked about the letter.

“Her answer was ‘I never saw the letter,” he said.

Ferguson finds it hard to believe that Berkoff has the prerogative to let board members go.

“In order to dismiss a board member as per NEON bylaws it requires a 2/3 vote and to date this has not happened,” she wrote in an email. “Should the board deem it necessary to vote me off, Robin off and Vanessa off, my hopes would be that the community take the legal action that it has authority to do so to find out why.  As for Mike Berkoff being able to eliminate through executive prerogative I find that illegal on the basis that any time someone is in disagreement with his decisions he would have the right to dismiss them, it makes no sense.  So if asking questions, putting together agendas and calendars have jeopardized community which I think has not. … Should Mike Berkoff be given executive prerogative this means that any board member who is in disagreement, that he has the ability to dismiss.  Not in this life time, what is wrong with this picture?”

Former board member TuShawn Bowden-Lewis, who resigned in October as part of the mass exodus following the appointment of Chiquita Stephenson as interim CEO and president, also lives in Stratford, Ferguson said.

“My presence was never questioned until Mike Berkoff and Tommie Jackson refused to hold committee meetings and board meetings as required by our bylaws as well as CSBG (Community Service Block Grant),” Ferguson wrote. “… Mike Berkoff as well as all board members are required to follow CSBG regulations as well as the NEON bylaws around governance to conduct day to day operations of the organization.”

State law requires a CAP agency to have a board consisting of not more than 51 and not less than 15 members.

The list of board members has been removed from the NEON website. Minutes of the November board meeting list 15 members: Michael Geake, Angela Edwards, Elizabeth Dukes, Katherine Williams, Paola Ochoa, Elda Mas, Terry Adams, Samuel Delgado, Nick Tarzia, O’Dea, Berkoff, Bowser, Peterson, Parker and Ferguson.

Parker, Peterson, Mas, Williams and Geake represent Norwalk, according to NEON paperwork. Elda Mas has not participated on the NEON board since May 8, 2013, Ferguson said. It’s impossible to check out that allegation as the only minutes available on NEON’s website are the ones from the November board meeting.

Dukes resigned as of Dec. 9, Ferguson said Saturday. Delgado never finished his application and made it known that he did not want to be on the board, she said.

Geake did not attend Wednesday’s attempted board meeting. He has not returned an email asking why not.

NEON’s website now calls the agency “NEON of Stamford (formerly CTE).”

Ferguson said she does not know what is going on because she has been left out of all emails regarding the board.

“I did notice they had another woman at the table on Wednesday who stated that she was there to be a new board member.  That was a surprise to me because there is a process to follow.  (1) First the application process and discussion happens with the Governance Committee, which I am on and to my knowledge has not met.  (2) Then the Governance committee brings the information to the board where the entire board votes on whether they would like the candidate to participate on the board.  (3) Depending on the vote, if the person is voted on the board, at the next board meeting that person would be sworn in,” she wrote.

She said she had contacted Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen regarding her concerns.

She forwarded this email response from Jepsen, dated Jan. 29:

Dear Dale,

Thank you for your email concerning disagreements between you and other members of the board of directors of NEON and the board’s chairman.   The Office of the Attorney General does not have authority to resolve disputes concerning board membership or other governance disputes involving NEON.    To the extent you believe that there has been misconduct involving state contracts, as defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. 4-66d, you may wish to contact the Auditors of Public Accounts.  While I regret that I cannot be of direct assistance to you, I appreciate you reaching out to me and wish you well going forward.

Sincerely,

George Jepsen

Ferguson said, “I got on the NEON board to make a difference in the lives of the people that we serve and if I’m voted off it is their loss and other organizations gain!  But as a taxpayer I will continue to share the injustice that I believe to be taking place, board member or not!”

In other NEON news:

NEON will take steps not to be held accountable for late W2s, Jackson said.

“The vendor who sent the W2s out – I was told that the vendor put them in the mail Friday, Jan. 31,” he said. “I will concede I haven’t seen any postmarks. But I have been told by several employees and former employees that their W2 forms were postmarked after Jan. 31, 2014. If there is an issue, because we engaged this contractor, we will try to make that a problem for the contractor, not for the agency.”

Fullscreen capture 2152014 14859 AM
A screen shot of NEON’s website shows a subtle rebranding.

Comments

23 responses to “Jackson: NEON board members did not act in agency’s best interests”

  1. anon

    None of these people are acting in Norwalk’s best interest. Get rid of the lot of them.

  2. The Norwalker

    I have seen W-2s from NEON post marked 2/8/13 from a Accounting Firm in New Jersey in a town half way between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. I wonder if this company even knows that NEON is blaming the late W-2s on them?

    What kind of agency hires a Accounting firm that far out of state?

    http://www.hofflersmith.com/index.html

  3. WOW!

    WOW! “NEON of Stamford”. Only 5 of 15 residents of Norwalk on the Board, and 1 of them hasn’t been to a meeting since May. The overwhelming majority of NEON’s clients in Norwalk are Latino, yet not one Latino from Norwalk is on the Board, nor on the executive management team.

  4. Let’s be honest!

    Dale Ferguson had only one item on her agenda when she was appointed to the Board of NEON – get her dear friend, Chiquita elected as the permanent CEO as quickly as possible. She even requested an emergency meeting to do so that was out of compliance. Who is she kidding? She should never have been elected to the Board in the first place. She lives and works in towns that made her ineligible to serve. Her only goal became a disruptive force on the Board.

  5. Taxpayer Fatigue

    I wonder how hard these “board members” will be fighting to stay on the board when they are personally sued by NEON’s creditors?

  6. Piberman

    Kudos to NON for following the ever unfolding NEON embarrassment ignored by the City’s mainstream media and political elites. Even in Bridgeport city officials would have by now addressed a similar problem. If Norwalk City officials – elected and appointed – can’t address the NEON tragedy why expect they can address other major City problems. Unless it’s just “too complicated”. Or just “indifferent” to our disadvantaged citizens save voting time.

  7. dawn

    Why would someone use an accounting firm so far away. Because they searched the internet. found a cheap on-line payroll co and that is how they are doing business. why use someone local. They might have some scruples and question their activities.
    .
    Heaven forbid anyone in any position of power and influence should publicly ask the questions we are all asking. an actual accounting firm for starters. but they say nothing of any substance.
    .
    what do the Norwalk reps think of the new name of the agency.
    was anyone aware. The crickets are deafening
    .
    i debated going to the board meeting last week, and am so glad i chose to take my kids to the Brookside night at the Maritime Aquarium. We do not get to go often and i would have been so angry if i had wasted my evening on nonsense.

  8. justMe

    How can NEON change their name as there has not been a vote by the board yet?

  9. The Norwalker

    Dawn

    I am thinking that they chose a accounting firm in New Jersey because they would be less likely to read in the paper that NEON is using them for a excuse for late W-2s 🙂

  10. still not paid

    So our tax money of Norwalk paid for Stamford problems and now they are taking over. See they had Chiquita as the escape goat and now look, they took over and dont care about Norwalk. Thank you Norwalk politician for you guys help to let it fall. All the talks of we are working on stuff in the back offices.

  11. The Norwalker

    Hi Still not paid

    The only problem with mentioning is the unfunded millions that NEON Management paid on to Headstart in Norwalk. I do not believe there was any daycare programs in Stamford.

  12. Anonymous

    Has ANYONE stopped to ask the question…..How can the (former) Acting CEO of a non-profit afford to live in Wilton … Zestimate: $2.11M • 5 beds • 6.5 baths • 6,665 sqft)…………………..AND own 2 Escalades???????????? FOLLOW THE MONEY TRAIL PEOPLE!!!!!

    (After much internal debate, NoN has decided to not allow commenters to post home addresses even when they are part of the public record.)

  13. Anonymous

    AND own rental property in Norwalk

  14. still not paid

    Another distraction. Trace the money. Are you serious. She had a life and career before NEON. Has anyone ever read her amazing bio. Now you put out her address to bring harm to her family. I hope she sues you all. Once again Norwalk we have nothing. Watch it unfold because it’s coming.

  15. hersheyteach101

    Are you serious how dear you put this women information online for the world to cause her harm. It is funny how I posted something about a board member and Nancy never posted it but yet this women adress has been posted since 9:00 a.m today. I hope she she takes every legal action there is!

    1. Mark Chapman

      @hersheyteach101

      Ms. Stephenson’s address is part of the public record and is easily obtainable by Googling her resume. That is why we left it up. Your libelous post about another board member, on the other hand, was not allowed, nor was the four language. We have not allowed many things said about Ms. Stephenson and other people.

  16. hersheyteach101

    Nancy how do you say you created this site for “NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety.” The most important word in your statement is safety, but yet you allow someone’s personal information to stay posted on your site all day long. You should be ashamed of your self for not following through with your mission statement. And I hope no harm comes to her and her family because people should then put the blame on you and your site for being so careless!

  17. lifelong teacher

    Wow. That’s a whole lot for someone who was making $65,000 not too long ago.

  18. hersheyteach101

    Okay Mark I will give you that, but the post being allowed to stay still helped put people family in harms way. oh and the resume does states the address, so this finally shows that she had this property way before she even became CEO, but anyways it shows that you guys pick and choose what you want to post!

    @Anonymous you really should be ashamed of yourself as well. I am pretty sure if this was your information and your family you would have thought twice about your actions. So yes it is easy for you to sit behind a keyboard and make statements like that…which was a coward move! I always believed in the saying “you reap what you sow” and “what you do in the dark, always come to the light” so, enjoy it now, but Karma is a hard thing to hide from…lol! on that note I hope you feel better that you got that off your chest. goodnight all!

    1. Mark Chapman

      @hersheyteach101

      You are correct. We, like every responsible publication, pick and choose what we want to post. It it is libelous, slanderous or vulgar, it does not run. If you have been paying attention, we post both sides of a story and we post comments from everyone whether we agree or not.

  19. Anonymous

    The address was obtained via a resume which was found online. If that information is supposed to be private, it shouldn’t be available online for anyone to find. Yes, she had a life before NEON, but she was making nothing CLOSE to what she was TAKING from NEON. Why? Because she was/IS not qualified.

  20. The Norwalker

    I saw her address from her online Resume and Zillow.com will give you good photos and information about the house.

  21. Shadow

    Hold up Norwalker The HeadStart program in Norwalk has been here way before NEON took it over we talking a history of over 20 years or more so Stamford had the same opportunities back then also to start up a head start program

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