Moccia may be reconsidering NEON grant money

Jack O'Dea Richard Moccia
NEON board member Jack O’Dea, left; Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, right.

NORWALK, Conn. – It appears that Mayor Richard Moccia is now willing to negotiate with the cash-strapped South Norwalk anti-poverty agency that is attributing potential layoffs to a lack of funding from the city of Norwalk.

Much of Wednesday night’s Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board meeting was done in secret, but a few comments made during the public session hinted at what is being done behind the scenes. One of those comments referred to Moccia.

Board member Jack O’Dea, chairman of the board’s fundraising committee, said Moccia has called several times looking to arrange a meeting. O’Dea cynically attributed that attempt to Moccia’s desire to be re-elected. The meeting will be arranged, O’Dea said.

At the regular August board meeting, then-interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious said NEON had used up much of its cash reserve meeting expenses as Moccia has refused to restore Norwalk funding cut in the wake of a federal audit that turned up financial irregularities under previous CEO Joe Mann. She indicated that layoffs were likely and proposed cutting health care benefits to employees, even though, she acknowledged, they aren’t paid a living wage to begin with.

NEON requested $1.3 million in grant money from Norwalk earlier this year, and was granted $90,000. Pheanious called that a “broken promise,” given that the agency has been receiving similarly sized grants for administrative expenses and to support the Head Start program every year going back 30 years.

Norwalk also denied NEON $1.3 million in Fiscal Year 2012.

Board members invited Moccia to meet with them in an executive session at their May 8 board meeting. Moccia yelled at them and left. Pheanious has since said the meeting was an attempt to get the mayor to reconsider funding the agency. No funding was granted.

Wednesday’s board meeting began with an executive session that lasted about an hour and a half. Board Chairman William Westcott told members that the secrecy was needed to discuss financial issues. When they got into the executive session they would see why secrecy was in order, he said.

After they came out of executive session, O’Dea began detailing potential fundraisers and contacts that had been made. He said he hoped to have commitments by the end of the month.

Board member Susan Weinberger asked if there was going to be anything concrete to report.

“We’re talking about a very large deficit,” she said. “How are we going to reduce that deficit? Is the fundraising every month going to give us reports of actual money coming in?”

O’Dea referred to negative press affecting fundraising efforts, and then jumped to another aspect of the problem.

“Going back to your comment before about Mayor Moccia,” he said, evidently referring to something that had been said in executive session. “He’s called up several times, eager now to meet and talk, whatever. So we’re going to talk. ‘You know what? What are you going to do for us? We understand you would like us, probably, to help you with your election. However, life is not a one-way street. You took 1.3, and 1.3, $2.6 million out of this agency – ‘”

Board member Jonathon Steinberg, a Westport state representative, interrupted.

“Right,” he said. “Let’s sit with the guy. I mean tomorrow. Let’s make it happen.”

O’Dea said that was in the works.

“You’re not listening,” he said. “He has called now several times to get a date from us to sit down with him. So that’s where we’re going.”

At that point Westcott ended the conversation.

Moccia has not responded to emails asking him for his opinion on the pending layoffs at NEON.


9 responses to “Moccia may be reconsidering NEON grant money”

    If ever you need to stick to doing the right thing – just DON’T DO IT.
    If you do, count this as a major factor in your loss of voters.

  2. Norwalk Dinosaur

    Slippery Dick, up to his tricky electoral ways again. How many checks can he write from his taxpayer funded slush-fund between now and election day? New parks in Rowayton, maybe? Money for NEON? $4 Million in magic BOE funding???

    For a guy who has been touting tough economic times and fiscal conservatism for 8-years, he does have a remarkable way of finding cash every 2-years.

  3. JustAsking

    The NEON Board should look at themselves and the executives in charge for the mess that it’s in. Not one penny from the City should be allocated to continue to fund an agency that has been cited for mismanagement of funds, cannot produce accurate financial records, continues to pay exhorbitant salaries to its executives and yet still has the arrogance to blame everybody else for its failings.

  4. piberman

    It’s up to NEON’s Board of Directors to maintain cordial relations with Norwalk’s Mayor and avoid vituperative public statements. Even in an election year. That is if they truly have NEON’s mission in mind. So far the release of public information regarding the unprecedented lack of financial oversight and sheer neglect by NEON staffers ought to caution NEON’s Board of Directors from criticizing any public official. Why should the Mayor or any other City official advocate more funding for NEON unless there is some independent evidence that NEON is observing conventional financial and accounting standards ? The burden of proof is clearly on NEON’s Board and its employees, especially its well paid senior employees, that funding is properly used and accounted for. NEON’s Board ought to stick to their knitting and avoid casting negative comments to any public official. We’re now into the second year of presumptive efforts by NEON’s Board and senior officals to rectify an incredibly sloppy and mismanaged operation. More than a few citizens are wondering whether the NEON Board is up to the task that in conventional organizations would have been completed in a month or so. So stick to your knitting Board members and get NEON fixed pronto. Without blaming public officials.

  5. BSmith

    Spot on pberman.

  6. Justen Asken

    Less than 2 months to the general election and Dick wants to help NEON? The same Dick that yelled at board members and walked out on them? Can he possibly insult the intelligence of Norwalkers further?

  7. Norwalk Spectator

    @Justen –

    Maybe, just maybe now that Ms. Wilson Pheanious is no longer in charge, things might change.
    Unless you were in that executive session, there’s no way to know exactly what was said to the Mayor. And remember, he’s the Mayor of the City of Norwalk. His major task is to deal with City business. NEON is a private organization and the Mayor is not responsible for it. The Board of Estimate and Taxation reduced the funding for NEON some time ago, so not having the funding was not a surprise.
    Personally, I’m not convinced that NEON has its act together. When Joe Mann took over, I thought that he would do a good job. Boy, was I wrong.
    Aside from that, remember these articles:
    Each one of them raises major concerns about accountability and funding. I’m still not convinced that all the issues have been corrected.

  8. dawn

    how can anyone give an organization that has no shame in saying they do not know how to keep financial records a dime of my taxes?

  9. RU4REEL

    @ Dawn, because unfortunately, he can give our money to them, after all it is close to the election, he has to look like he cares, be assured if he wins he will be yelling at residents again.
    Most certainly wrong but this is the way he historically operates, the election year road paving is an indicator, always seems to happen every two years, is that a normal schedule?
    On top of it, he said things in executive session regarding Neon (for you tim/moccia) so there can be doubt as to what was said and he can deny ever speaking at all.

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