Letter: NEON nonsense – What am I missing?

By Susan Wallerstein

To the Editor:

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what I don’t get:

• Why is it still impossible to get good financial reports? Is it true NEON has overdue bills for utilities and other program basics?

• Did the current NEON administration have a role recruiting and selecting board members and is there a connection between this and many board members’ loyalty to these leaders?

• Why is it that several board members don’t even live in the area served by NEON?

• Do elected officials in Stamford and Norwalk who appointed people to serve on the NEON board know what’s going on?

• Why should it take a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to find out the salary for the Acting President & CEO? Ditto for the names, positions and salaries of those employed by NEON who are family members? Is it true the board is thinking about changing the bylaws regarding nepotism?

• How can the board approve high salaries for leaders while laying off other employees?

• Do the majority of the board members really think experience is the same as education when it comes to managing a complex multi-million dollar grant-funded human services agency?

• Why were there more requirements for NEON board members than for the person the board approved to serve as acting president & CEO?

• Why after several months hasn’t this person been able to present official proof that she has earned the associates degree claimed on her resume?

• Why did most board members agree to allow the current interim CEO to continue as a volunteer to work on a new online employee education program when it is having difficulty running its current programs and services? Isn’t this something NEON might collaborate or partner with others on if it’s really needed?

Why does any of this matter to me? I have lived in Norwalk by choice for more than 40 years and value the diversity of our small city. But I also understand how important agencies like NEON are for many in our community. While some of us own homes and pay ever-increasing taxes, others need a safety net. I also have history. For many years I taught adult education at Carver and other locations throughout Fairfield County. Later I served on the Carver Board. I understand why Carver eventually decided to stop being a NEON “delegate agency.” Luckily Carver owns its own building.

I remember when NEON and the South Norwalk Community Center moved into 98 South Main and what it took to make this happen. It’s too bad SNCC never insisted on a written agreement about how shared ownership would work or what it means to be a “delegate agency.” The NEON “Parent Awareness Group” founded by the late Bea Brown joined PTO Council and we held parent meetings in South Norwalk. When I served on the BET (Board of Estimate and Taxation) we reviewed NEON’s budget requests, a challenging process even then. I understand how hard it is juggling lots of state and federal grants, working to provide needed programs and services, while making sure the funds are spent properly. I get why the city is reluctant to continue funding to an agency that has financial management problems.

I am distressed that Norwalk’s safety net is damaged because this affects all of us, including people like me who are Norwalkers by choice. It makes me wonder whether the idea of a diverse small city can really work. Don’t we all deserve answers to these questions?

Susan Wallerstein


15 responses to “Letter: NEON nonsense – What am I missing?”

  1. CommunityAdvocate

    Was this “news” or a vent session? It sounds so one sided and “personal”.

  2. Piberman

    What does it take to get our elected leaders, Mayor Moccia and Common Council members, to take an interest in NEON’s unfolding financial and management scandal that speaks loudly about inept management. ? Why are the leaders of our diversity communities whose members are served by NEON remaining quiet ? Who are they protecting ? Why are the Democrat candidates for mayor quiet about the NEON scandal ? Why are our state legislators so quiet about NEON ? Doesn’t any influential leader of Norwalk have an interest in resolving NEON’s long standing difficulties ?

    And to Dr Wallerstein, thank you ! At least one NEON Board member is speaking out in protest. Why are the others so quiet ?

  3. ScopeonNorwalk

    It’s a shame. What happened to that federal investigation that was supposed to be landing current and former NEON employees in jail plus some of their former Board Members?

  4. jlightfield

    There are excellent resources available for non profits to seek technical expertise for key fiduciary responsibilities. The ProBono Partnership is one, for example. http://www.probonopartner.org

  5. Susan Wallerstein

    @Peter Berman Just to clarify, I am NOT Susan Weinberger, member of the NEON Board though we have often been confused over the years – similar names, educational backgrounds, and at different times we both worked for Norwalk Public Schools. @Community Advocate, letters to the editor and op ed pieces (as opposed to news stories) are by their very nature one-sided and personal. Venting or freedom of speech?

  6. Neoscam

    Spot on, Scope On. Indictments need to happen here. It doesn’t get lower than stealing from needy children.

  7. Bruce Kimmel

    Excellent questions.
    In response to Mr. Berman: NEON is tangled up right now with both the state and federal governments, both of which are monitoring it closely and even taking over some of its own responsibilities, such as paying for a national search. Neither the Common Council, the Mayor, nor the BET at this point can do much of anything. During the last two budget cycles and during the Community Development Block Grant hearings, the Council and the BET tried to make heads and tails of what was happening and not happening at the agency. We also expressed our strong reservations about the merger with the Stamford agency in light NEON’s financial problems.

  8. Jlightfield

    Actually the Common Council could withdraw its appointee to the board forcing NEON to address its fiduciary oversight since without a City representative on its board, NEON fails to meet it organizational structure requirements and would lose its standing to represent the City as an state enabled anti-poverty agency. This action would be called playing hardball politics, up front and in the open. Something that hasn’t happened in decades methinks.

  9. Asa H.M.

    Yes, Susan, we all DO deserve answers to these questions. I hope they are forthcoming. Great writing and thought provoking – I just hope we get the truth.

  10. Ace22

    @Susan….*Exhaling* You took the words right out of my mouth! I won’t hold my breath for answers!

  11. Piberman

    Sorry Mr Kimmel but NEON’s previously Board included many Common Council members including its President who together failed their aboard responsibilities. That’s why we have Boards – to oversee management. Our Common Council former NEON Board members failed their fiduciary responsibilities in not requiring a requisite financial reporting system. Similarly they approved Mr Mann’s peculiarly generous $150,000 . Those are major league failures by Common Council members.

    Now surely the City can extend both legal, managerial and financial assistance and guidance to NEON. Surely Mayor Moccia can speak publicly about the questioned credentials and qualifications of the interim CEO.

    NEON is a major embarrassment to Norwalk and a government that sits idly merits our questioning. When the BOE ran into financial management problems the City stepped in quickly to offer assists. But when NEON implodes City officials offer no assistance.

    I expect a Common Council member who cares about good government to urge his City colleagues to take effective action. Not tell us that the state and Feds are involved. That’s just passing the buck.

    The true nature of a City is how it treats its less fortunate citizens. The refusal of the Mayor and Common Council members to get involved is deplorable. More so during an election year. Or is every official so certain of reelection that they can ignore the demands of their office.

  12. dianelauricella

    @piberman “The refusal of the Mayor and Common Council members to get involved is deplorable. More so during an election year” Well said. The offices of Mayor and Common Council are also a political entity that have the right and the taxpayers’ expectation to defend both the accountability of taxpayer dollars and the “clients” that NEON is supposed to help. For years, the many Council members, legislators and other “prominent” citizens have been delinquent in their duties as problems developed…this includes those who are running for re-election.
    @susanwallerstein Thank you! Very thoughtful questions…we have a right to those answers immediately!!!

  13. Piberman

    As one of our more thoughtful and conscientious Common Council members perhaps Mr Kimmel could attend a NEON meeting and ask questions such as:
    A) what is the 6 figure CFO doing to collect financial daa as required by the job description;
    B) when will NEON have financial records up to date;
    C) why did the Board consider the interim CEO qualified when the individual lacked the credentials and experience normally associated with such responsibilities;
    D) why hasn’t the Board moved to secure previously paid salaries to Mr Mann former CEO for reported malfeasance;
    E) why didn’t the Board ask the City for managerial and financial managerial assistance;
    F) how much is the interim CEO being paid;
    G) why hasn’t the City’s attorney questioned NEON’s failures;
    H) did the City ever inspect NEON’s financial records;
    I) how were the new NEON directors selected;
    J) are any NEON directors providing financial and managerial oversight;
    K does the interim CEO have any plan and date of implementation to restore NEON to a viable organization;
    I) has the interim CEO identified how the problems arose and her role ?

    This is the short list. Based on reported deficiencies NEON’s activities may well be the greatest scandal in modern Norwalk history. Why should our elected officials sit quietly while Fed and State officials detail the extent of the scandal. Unless they are indifferent to their responsibilities. Fortunately we have at least official who has taken notice. So here’s an opportunity to better serve the community and by your actions embarrass other elected officials to do their duty on behalf of Norwalk residents. Come election time City residents can make appropriate judgments about the failure of elected officials to oversee NEON activities and use of taxpayer monies.

  14. Susan Wallerstein

    Agree, Peter, but since it was the BET not the Council that decided not to fund NEON this year I would expect Mr. Wilms and others to follow up on their financial management issues/concerns, assuming they agree the agency provides at least some critical services. And since NEON is now a regional agency (Greenwich to Westport), I’m wondering why Stamford stakeholders seem to be uninvolved. No luck so far getting my piece in the Advocate.

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