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Letter: Time for NEON to go

By Sara Sikes

To the Editor

NORWALK – I worked at NEON from 1986-87 and find it sad how little the agency has changed for the better over the years. NEON at that time had some very good people on staff and on the board. I worked on getting contributions from local corporations, many of which supported NEON. If one of the donors asked for an individual program evaluation, however, there was nothing to show. NEON had recently taken over Head Start after the Board of Education decided to let it go. Unfortunately, I can’t say that it was a well-run program under NEON’s direction.

When I left NEON, the Board of Directors had just reviewed an initial audit by an independent CPA firm, who found $250,000-plus missing in the most recent fiscal year. This fact never became public; no was held accountable, and everyone got their raises as usual. … Later, NEON experienced a scandal regarding the executive director being accused of sexually harassing a woman, who sued.

Years later, I worked for the Carver Center as a fundraiser and had the opportunity to observe two NEON programs on site, Head Start and the Summer Camp program. Still no program evaluations were done to show the donors and I can’t say the programs were well run. In fact, both of these programs had serious problems with staff oversight and there was a reprimand from a state agency after a parent complained.

Reading about all of the latest developments at NEON, it makes me wonder if it isn’t time for those in charge to just call it quits. An entirely new Board of Directors, no matter how well intentioned, does not seem to have made a difference in this culture of corruption and incompetence. NEON is merging with the Stamford counterpoint when the Norwalk one is in a crisis — really? What possible good could come of this? The staff may benefit by getting bigger salaries, but neon does not exist to provide big salaries for executives in charge.

Perhaps the time has come to dissolve NEON, and let other agencies with good track records take over the programs. I read that Norwalk Housing Authority and NCC have collaborated in applying for a grant for Head Start. They seem like a far better choice for overseeing such an essential program. There are other such local agencies with longstanding records of fundraising and outstanding service to community needs who could take over the NEON programs. Isn’t it time?

Sara Sikes

Comments

7 responses to “Letter: Time for NEON to go”

  1. loveforthecity

    Good for you Ms. Sikes! More of what we need in this city, people talking the truth.

  2. Norwalk Spectator

    I agree with you, Ms. Sikes. NEON just can’t seem to get its act together. I know people are concerned about the Head Start program so perhaps it would be best to move it to the Housing Authority, as long as it would be open to all the Norwalk children, not just NHA residents.

  3. JustAsking

    I commend Ms. Sikes for coming forth and telling her story. The real question now is anybody listening.

  4. Neoscam

    I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg. Stealing from poor children is just about as low as it gets. People need to be indicted here and sent to prison. That is the only way you are going to stop this vicious cycle of con artists who have been enriching themselves at the expense of our society.

  5. Piberman

    Thank you Ms Sikes. The real unanswered question is why City Officials – the Mayor and Common Council members – over the years have ignored NEON’s financials s management problems. Even those Council members serving as NEON’s Board members utterly failed their responsibilities. Even with Federal and State audits of reported malfeasance City officials seem content to remain uninvolved. No inquiries by the City attorney of misspent taxpayer monies. NEON’s sad story seems to indicate that our elected officials aren’t fully committed to serving citizens dependent on NEON’s services. City officials lost no time intervening to fix the BOE’s financial problems last year. Why are they so reluctant to help straighten out NEON’s problems ? Withholding funds hasn’t improved matters. Why not offer managerial assistance ? Unless its not just not important ……

  6. Norwalk Spectator

    Piberman – why are you making this a City issue? NEON is an independent organization.
    .
    Yes, it is true that there was a Council Member on the Board, but also realize that the Council Member was one voice among more than 25 Board members. Now, I’ve been told that the size of the Board has been reduced, so I don’t know how many are on it anymore. However, it seems to me that the managerial assistance would have come through the City Council member on the Board.
    .
    The Board of Estimate and Taxation stopped funding NEON two years ago because of NEON’s financial irregularities. Since NEON is not a City agency, I don’t think they are obligated to open their financial books to the Mayor or the Council. However, I suspect that since they receive HUD funding, they are supposed to be held to Federal funding regulations.
    .
    The Board of Education was not obligated to open their books to the City either, but the administration chose to do so, which allowed the City to assist them. However, the Norwalk Public School District is a quasi-municipal agency, where NEON is not.
    .
    I do not think it is a fair statement to say that our elected officials are not committed to the needs of those Norwalk residents who receive NEON services. NEON has become mired in issues of its own making. There have been at least five articles published on this very site regarding major irregularities at NEON covering everything from financial incompetence to access to bathrooms. None of those issues have anything to do with our elected officials. They have to do with mis-management on the part of NEON staff.
    .
    Yes, NEON clients are the ones who are being hurt by this whole mess, but it is not the fault of the City administration or any of the elected officials. NEON needs to deal with their issues. If they do not, anything that the City administration does will be no more than slapping a band aid on a major wound. If NEON succeeds in correcting the various problems, good for them. I’m sure the City will restore funding once appropriate actions have been taken. However, if NEON fails; well, it looks like the South Norwalk Community Center is positioning itself to provide many of the services for those residents who need it. And if the South Norwalk Community Center can do the job and provide the appropriate financial documents, I say “Good for them!”

  7. Piberman

    To Norwalk Spectator:

    I believe NEON has long had Common Council members on its Board and they failed their responsibilities. The issue s not whether the City is formally responsible for NEON – an independent agency – but whether when an agency receiving City funds has serious issues is it appropriate for the City to exercise oversight and offer to provide financial management assistance ? NEONs problems are long standing. A caring City government ought to do better than say “it’s not my problem”. And why aren’t City officials investigating whether former NEON officials acted improperly ? If NEONs new directors can’t straighten out a troubled organization should City officials just turn the other cheek ? Why not ask the State for custody ?
    Why should we as a City just accept NEONs ongoing failure ?

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