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?