Jackson trying to right NEON’s ship

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The Rev. Tommie Jackson addresses a member of the public at Monday’s Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board meeting.

Updated, 5:40 a.m, Berkoff comment

NORWALK, Conn. – The new interim leader of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) spoke Monday about the tremendous hurdles the agency faces while promising that employees will be paid in full by Christmas and assuring Mayor Harry Rilling that steps were being taken to secure what may be criminal evidence in the “potential fraud” that has taken place.

Although the Rev. Tommie Jackson was appointed new NEON interim CEO and President on Nov. 8, NEON’s board voted for four resolutions Monday that gave him legal authority to negotiate on the agency’s behalf with state agencies. That included a resolution ratifying his appointment as CEO and president, which Chairman Mike Berkoff said was done because funders require a resolution.

Eight board members were present, one by phone. That constituted a quorum of the 15-member board.

Jackson then went on to provide much information:

• NEON had less than $10,000 in its bank when he was appointed. As of Monday night there is $77,000 in the bank, and $300,000 is expected to come in by the end of the week, for services that have been provided. Of that, $98,000 will go to staff salaries.

• NEON is about $3 million in the hole. “NEON is far from a point of solvency. It’s very far from a point of solvency,” he said.

• The staff will be paid in full by Dec. 20, he said. “We are hopeful and happy that staff is being paid. Staff will be paid again this week and they will be paid for the period Oct. 28 though Nov. 1,” he said.

• Jackson said he is having teleconferences twice weekly with state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), state Rep. Chris Perone (D-Norwalk 137), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk 142), state Rep. Patricia Billie Miller (D-Stamford 145) and occasionally state Sen. Carlo Leone (D-Stamford). He is talking to Rilling every other day on the phone, he said.

• “I am meeting with a CPA Tuesday to consider what we need to do and how we need to do it. The agency at this time lacks clear financial controls and procedures,” he said. “There’s no real procurement process. When you have procurement taking place at one school, procurement taking place at another school, procurement taking place through human resources, procurement taking place through financial, that’s just inappropriate. You need to have a central place where you can go to and point to and make sure those things are done. We will do it. We will do it.”

It was recently revealed that NEON owed South Norwalk Electric and Water (SNEW) about $37,000 and that SNEW was demanding $18,000 by last Wednesday or the power might be shut off.

That didn’t happen. Jackson said it won’t happen in the future either.

“We were fortunate and able to, with the assistance of Mayor Rilling’s office and staff, enter into and agreement with SNEW where they are not going to turn off the lights,” Jackson said. “We will continue to have service here and those services contune to go forward. But there were decisions that were made and I don’t know at what time those decisions were made. But I will tell you this without equivocation: those decisions constituted waste, mismanagement, tantamount to borderline fraud. When you have situations that lead to waste and mismanagement you create an atmosphere that lead to fraud. I have not found fraud yet. I may never find it. I’m not looking for it. But if it shows up you’ll know about it.”

Rilling sat through the entire meeting, as did Common Councilwoman Phaedrel (Faye) Bowman (D-District B) and Democratic District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra.

Rilling, Norwalk’s police chief for 17 years, zeroed in on the possible criminality of former NEON staff.

“Do you know if records or any other documents that might lead to a criminal investigation have been removed from the building without knowledge or do you know that everything is in place?” he asked.

“We have tried as best as we could to secure any and all documents as well as securing computers,” Jackson said. “Let me say for the record that when (former interim NEON CEO and president) Mrs. Patricia Wilson Pheanious left in September she left with an agency telephone that she still has at this time. I’m trying to verify whatever materials and goods she may have at this time including computers, whether that’s laptop or desktop, it’s not clear, but we have made steps, including disabling security pass codes and locks on the doors.”

Those measures were taken in both Norwalk and Stamford, he said.

On Nov. 5, paychecks issued to NEON employees bounced. Jackson referred to that as a possible criminal act, and said the Department of Labor had threatened to issue warrants for the people who signed the checks, which have since been made good by NEON.

“We are making efforts to engage the states attorney of Norwalk, who reports to the chief states attorney in Stamford, Mr. Cohen, to determine and ascertain what review might need to be done to determine what and if any criminality otherwise exists,” he said.

A member of the public questioned the actions of the board, saying that perhaps they needed a reeducation. Jackson said the board is in transition, having served for less than a year, and that he and Berkoff are trying to arrange more training.

Board member Cynthia Bowser said she joined because NEON’s services are important to Stamford.

“We’re in shock,” she said. “We came into this board in March with the former commissioner of the state of Connecticut Department of Social Services (Pheanious). Never in my wildest nightmare would I have imagined what transpired under her watch. So at this particular time we are trying to ascertain the information. We may seem a little jaded – we are.”

Jackson refused to throw Pheanious under the bus.

“Where NEON is today did not happen last week,” he said. “It did not happen last month and it probably did not happen in the last six months. As I have been able to ascertain, the problems were long simmering and they were hidden underground, and then they surfaced. Sometimes when they surface the last person around is the one who gets the blame. I am not here to blame anybody. I think the last administration walked into a hornet’s nest, if I might put it that way. It got stung in a lot of ways in a way that somebody else, if they had known, would not have been stung. The problems just did not occur in the past six to eight months. So you can look at it in a historical perspective e, it’s systemic as well as it is situational and it has to be addressed.”

Berkoff again mentioned the $2.6 million in funding withheld by Norwalk under the direction of former Mayor Richard Moccia, as well as the cost of the merger with Stamford’s CTE, which Jackson said added $690,000 to the deficit. Berkoff also mentioned the decisions made by the former board and management to continue Norwalk services in spite of the lack of funding from the city.

“We’re $3 million short because of those three components,” he said. “There was a squeeze at the very end, the last 60-90 days … Basically, NEON hit the wall.”


19 responses to “Jackson trying to right NEON’s ship”

  1. Dawn

    I hate to say that I think rolling will buckle. I hope he uses his own money and not my taxes.

  2. amazed

    Employees worked 10 days in a biweekly payroll cycle. they will be receiving a paycheck for 5 days. How will they be paid in full by December 20th when each payroll cycle puts the employees further behind in compensation?

  3. Jackson keeps telling us loud and clear what is going to happen…
    Rilling WILL be giving the taxpayers money to NEON and shortly.
    Jackson keeps repeating that the city OWES them that … the nerve of him. But to be “fair” (HA!), he is forewarning us taxpayers to wake up and smell the coffee. NEON’s gravy train is getting to run again so we better pay up.
    But what Jackson fails to understand is that Chicky babe would have swindled that money too.
    Get ready Norwalk – think the taxes are going to go because Rilling wants to promote civility with the teachers union..wait till the increase for NEON. Norwalk teachers union and NEON are doing happy kicks down the hall because Rilling will be funding their requests.

  4. Casey Smith

    “Berkhoff again mentioned the $2.6 million in funding withheld by Norwalk under the direction of former Mayor Richard Moccia”
    Since NEON is NOT a city entity, there would have to be an approved grant contract on file for the funds to be transferred. Does anyone have a copy of a signed grant contract between the City of Norwalk and NEON saying that the City would allocate NEON money for ’11-’12 and ’12-’13 fiscal years?
    To my mind, it’s just like the federal and state grants. If you don’t make the cut, you don’t make the cut. Whining about it doesn’t help. The more that NEON Board members pound this drum, the less favorable I am towards them.

  5. Piberman

    It would be helpful to learn when our state legislators Duff, Perone and Morris first intervened in this crisis and what actions they have undertaken towards resolution. And whether there is need for greater state overnight in supervising similar agencies and if so whether they have taken initiatives for introducing same. Surely there is need for improved state oversight.

  6. M Allen

    He’s not looking for fraud? But if he finds it, we’ll hear about it.
    Here’s the deal: the city has the right to launch an investigation. Harken back to the days of the SNEW embezzlement case in the early 1980’s that also implicated the taxing district. That was handled by the DA and detectives from the NPD and resulted in multiple convictions. They can be supported by a forensic audit, which is what is required here.
    Mr. Mayor, launch the investigation.

  7. TG

    @MAllen, I agree. I applaud the steps Rev. Jackson is taking and the progress he has made so far, but it is hard to imagine that there are not plenty of criminal charges lurking under the surface of all this, and that will take an official criminal investigation to uncover.

    On an unrelated note, he is speaking regularly to state reps and such. What exactly are they doing? I remember watching the NY news after Sandy last year, and Chuck Schumer was “touring” one of the more devastated boroughs, and a woman came up to him and said how awful it was and all she had eaten in two days was one slice of pizza, and there were no lights and no heat and people were freezing and starving and he gave her…a hug. A hug? Sandy wasn’t like the Haiti earthquake. Chuck Schumer was able to get to the area and to get back out. I sat there with my jaw in the floor and thought, if he was able to drive there, why on earth did he not pack a stinking van FULL of sandwiches and pizza and blankets before he went there and them out instead of hugs? Sorry for the diversion, but I ask the same question here…what are the state reps doing to reach out to their constituents, who elected them, to see how they can help meet their needs during this time. I mean we have people from these forums, myself included, and person2person, and such trying to coordinate some way to alleviate the burden that has fallen on working families as a result of this debacle. I haven’t heard a word from the elected reps.

  8. M Allen

    I just don’t know what even the most recent additions to the NEON board are thinking. The only way any of this is going to go away and re-instill any semblance of confidence in the organization is to uncover every last line item. I suppose they can persuade some dopes to provide funding in the absence of a full accounting and investigation, but they are just repeating the past over and over again. Its just foolish. Actually, it was foolish before. It’s well beyond that point now. We’ve been down the path of new leadership before. That didn’t cut it. They need to scrub it all, let the chips fall where they may and then move ahead. No moving ahead before that is done.

  9. Bamboozled

    Look for fraud Jackson! It’s there and very much needed for that new direction you speak of..it is needed to restore that trust with the funders and the community. I am sure by now you have an idea as to what really went on. Weed out the bad roots! Uphold your duties! The people are owed that much to see justice. I hope the Mayor and all the rest of the public figures who are in a position to do something to change and fix this they will…

  10. Tim T

    Irish Girl is correct Rilling will be restoring the funding to NEON and giving the unions even sweeter deals . He has to as these are the tax “takers” that got him elected

  11. Don’t Panic

    Not sure why people insist on dragging Mr. Rilling into this. The problems at NEON clearly have been going on for some time. Our budget is set by the BET after Council determines the cap. Nobody is going to snap their fingers and magic up money for NEON.

  12. Tearful Humble One

    @Don’t Panic. People who are just disguised that Riling won the election, find every opportunity to bash the Mayor. Let them talk their nonsense. We know the truth. They are the ones as kids that cried when they lost their games. “Sore sports!!!!”

  13. @Don’t Panic:
    The people who are posting about Rilling are not doing this out of nowhere…it is the mantra of NEON’s Berkoff and Jackson (“Berkhoff again mentioned the $2.6 million in funding withheld by Norwalk”).
    They are not repeating it just to hear themselves talk, they are telling the public they have every intention to seek legal counsel to get every dime they think they are “owed”. But the public of Norwalk (and I mean the TAXPAYERS of Norwalk) should keep reminding NEON that Norwalk doesn’t OWE them a cent – the money was being GIVEN to them. But because this agency is so corrupt and criminal, any money GIVEN to them would have been embezzled by Chicky and her gang of theives (Norwalk already contributed to the thievery under Mann but he was too slick to have been caught or cut a sweet back room deal).
    As for the budge being set – you don’t think that there will be an emergency session to reallocate funds? Especially if NEON is seeking legal counsel?? Everyone who supported Rilling also supp0rts NEON (one bleeding heart for another) and this will be the rallying cry for Rilling to go ahead with giving NEON the money. I hope I am wrong – but I don’t think so.
    As for THO — we are not “disgusted” that Rilling won, we are disgusted that Rilling has everyone’s hands in his back pocket that he will send taxes through the roof to pay for all the political contributions made by his supporters and promises he made on the campaign trail (and yes, there were probably back room talks).
    Unfortunately – that is the truth you can’t acknowledge.

  14. Don’t Panic

    I don’t see a need to get personal and call any other posters names. But it is important that readers understand that the new Mayor isn’t an all powerful Emperor and has no evil intent. This kind of rumor mongering prevents the city from doing what It needs to in order to modernize and serve its citizens. It’s time the politicking was put aside in favor of rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done.

  15. “I have not found fraud yet. I may never find it. I’m not looking for it. But if it shows up you’ll know about it.” — Tommie Jackson, newly appointed NEON interim CEO and President as of Nov. 8, 2013.
    Is Jackson even qualified to even look for fraud?
    Would he know fraud if it was staring him in the face?
    And folks – here is the real kicker… get this…he “isn’t looking for it”. WHAT???!!
    This has to be the the ultimate slap-in-the-face to the taxpayers of Norwalk… he doesn’t want to get chicky babe in trouble so he is not going to look for fraud!! But yet, he still wants millions of dollars from us… unfreakin’ believable, Mr. Jackson.
    Unfreakin’ believable.
    Well, we all know another reason why he isn’t looking for fraud, Jackson is still having Chicky work for NEON at home – JACKSON IS ALREADY LYING TO THE PUBLIC.
    Yup – again, there is that “hope and change” NEON was looking for… NOT off to a good start. Now NEON needs to get rid of Jackson because he simply can’t be trusted.

  16. The Norwalker

    have noticed that there are still plenty of people working at NEON Admin. Office. If the Organization has lost most of their programs why are still so many people in the Administration Dept.

    Shouldn’t the larger salaries in the Admin be recalculated because there is about 90% less programs to manage?

  17. dawn

    I agree. What other purpose is there for the management of NEON but to look for proof that people stole money and recoup it.
    they are so worried about rocouping what is “owed” to them from Norwalk, but don’t Mr. Jackson is not looking to the thieves who stole money right out from unde the noses of Berkoff and Co.
    i ask again and again. What compensation if at all any is Jackson getting. Or what has he been promised. TRANSPARENCY!!!
    i also want to know what are the dollar amounts that municipalities other than Norwalk contribute to NEON.

  18. The Norwalker

    Well the CFO Ms Watson-Yates has been a part of NEON Senior Management in various capacities for quite sometime. She is not the right person to use to do forensic accounting to get real answers.

  19. The Back Way

    I all honesty everything I have seen, experienced and endured at the hands of the folks that”work” at Neon/CTE” are a pathetic joke. I have been berated, insulted and lied to. Not only THIS year but last year as well. Despite having to call the offices last winter, in desperate need of oil, I called the offices nearly 12 consecutive business days to no avail. The voice mail was full, I also left messages when I could. Still no response. I finally went directly to the office, by this time in tears. I spoke face to face with Ms. Juanita Ball, who re-assured me that, as stated to me at my initial application, I had “safety nets” for up to 3 additional deliveries if needed. I was assured this would be taken care of and requested, yet nothing was ever done and I was never able to get ANY of the “safety nets I was told I would be able to utilize.
    This year, after my initial annual application, I met again with Ms. Ball who assured me the request would be submitted within one day. That was Dec. 10th, 2013. I requested Hi-Ho as they had the most reasonable prices that I knew of. Knowing scheduled area and regular customers must be attended to first I waited. No delivery at all. I called spoke with Ms. Ball again. By this point it was 2 days before Christmas. Once again Ms Ball began a ranting that she had submitted authorization to Hi-Ho but had not received a reply from them and that I needed to call, follow up with oil company and this was MY job. I was never instructed to do so at any time, in prior years, or this heating season. It is also not stated in any paperwork I received from CTE/NEON. Had I known this I would have stayed on top of any follow ups that needed my compliance. . I immediately called Hi-Ho who informed me they had NEVER received ANY authorization to deliver to my house between December 10th and Dec 22. I Called Ms. Ball back, as did a Hi-Ho representative and Ms. Ball proceeded to place blame on both myself and Hi-Ho for failing to follow up no the authorization-which I believe is HER job. How is Hi-Ho reasonably expected to inquire about the status of the authorization if they never received it. It was discovered by the Hi-Ho representative that the fax authorization was decline as Hi-Ho lines were busy and Ms. Ball never acted with due diligence to ensure the request had gone through. I again called Ms. Ball who continued to blame everyone, to the exclusion of herself and CTE/NEON, and proceeded to instruct me to “do for myself” and got and buy 30 gallons of diesel in the interim. Mind you I have a broken back permanent nerve damage in my legs and herniated discs in my neck, I had no car to go to a gas station, much less containers to transport 30 gallons of diesel or the money to pay for it. I don’t know what part of “disability she does not understand. In January I called far in advance in need of oil from the 3 safety nets Ms. Ball herself as well as the CTE/NEON representative with whom I spoke when I applied in November, stated I was eligible for. I also warned her that I was in a position where pipes may begin to freeze and in fact one did. Thankfully I am knowledgeable enough to know how to repair such issues and “did for myself” and repaired it.

    Once again Ms. Ball began a rant, not permitting me to speak more than a few words before repeatedly interrupting me and arguing that she never said I had a “safety net”. I reminded her of our face to face meeting both this year and last, to which she replied- “as soon as the year is over I forget about everything and everyone I have dealt with”. This type of inhumane treatment from a person who can not adequately do her job, yet earns $80,000 a year while I barely survive on $1000 a month in Disability is completely unacceptable. After reading what I have about the mismanagement of funds, believable indications of nepotism, theft of services which was supposedly offered to those not eligible for this type of service I am stunned that a forensic audit has not been demanded IMMEDIATELY. What I have also witnessed while at the facility, watching employees ignore ringing phones because they are chatting about their personal lives, holiday gifts and gossiping about the shakedown in the organization is certainly NOT helping matters. With 100 fewer employees, each should have more than enough work to accomplish in a day rather than ignoring those in need, gossiping and getting paid to do so. The change in the “regime”- or Board of DIrectors should be focused on this especially with the highly inflammatory allegations that have been exposed and potentially criminal activity!!!!!!!!!

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