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.