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:
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.
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.”