NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Richard Moccia said Thursday he has not reached out to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON), despite assertions to the contrary made at Wednesday night’s NEON board meeting.
“I don’t know what he’s smoking,” Moccia said, of comments made by Jack O’Dea at Wednesday night’s meeting held in Stamford.
O’Dea, the chairman of NEON’s fundraising committee, said Moccia had called several times, eager to set up a meeting with the South Norwalk anti-poverty agency to offer additional financial assistance from the city.
O’Dea said Moccia was willing to fund NEON because there is an election looming.
Moccia said he was contacted by NEON interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson.
“I returned her call. I did not promise any funding,” he said in an email. “We talked about some programs. That is a far call from promising money and calling board members. The call came in my personal phone on September 4 @ 7:29 p.m. I returned her call on September 5 @ 8:14 p.m.”
Moccia said in a phone call with NancyOnNorwalk that he was currently with board member Jonathan Steinberg, a Westport state representative, at an event but that he hadn’t called any NEON board members and there iis no meeting planned. At Wednesday night’s meeting, after O’Dea said Moccia had reached out to the agency, Steinberg urged the board to set up a meeting with the mayor “tomorrow.”
Moccia said if the agency got money now, just before the election, the funding would look political.
Norwalk has denied the vast majority of NEON’s grant requests for the past two years, a result of a federal audit that showed the agency had misspent about $400,000. NEON was denied about $1.3 million in grant money in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. That is grant money the agency has depended on for about 30 years, then-interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious said. She called it a “broken promise,” and said last month that layoffs were likely at the agency as a result.
Moccia said any special appropriation for NEON would have to go through the Common Council and the Board of Estimate and Taxation. He has told NEON that, if it gets the Head Start contract, Norwalk will continue to provide school space and utilities. That’s about a $300,000 value, he said.
“People think there’s money in the contingency fund,” he said. “That’s for emergencies.”