Moccia to NEON: Cooperate or we’ll call feds, state for investigation

Updated, 5:50 p.m., ACF response – nothing from NEON; 4:52 p.m., CDI hotline message, short video; 1:11 p.m., comment from Moccia.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said Tuesday morning that the city is trying to facilitate a solution to the interruption of Head Start services for children by working with the two agencies involved, even as he continues to disavow responsibility for the situation. At 5:48 p.m., that action had not borne any fruit.

While leaders of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) said last week that they could not relinquish their license to an agency appointed by the federal government to take over Head Start operations, Moccia and Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan said the state has now agreed to allow both agencies to co-exist in city facilities under different licenses.

Moccia is threatening NEON with legal action. Maslan said the city could call in authorities to investigate NEON’s financial improprieties. He did not say why that has not been done already.

Moccia said the federal government has withheld money from NEON’s Head Start program, that the money withheld by the city has nothing to do with the current situation – a suspension of NEON’s Head Start program that was mandated by the Administration for Children and Families Office of Head Start (ACF).

Moccia, speaking to the press at a Tuesday morning press conference, produced a letter sent to NEON board Chairman Mike Berkhoff from Community Development Institute on Tuesday morning. CDI requests that Berkhoff sign the letter and return it to them by 5 p.m. That will allow CDI to use the city-owned buildings where NEON’s Head Start programs take place, with a formal Memorandum of Understanding to follow.

“Solutions do exist,” Moccia said in a press release. “It is possible for NEON to allow the continuation of Head Start programs at Nathaniel Ely School, under the management of CDI as mandated by the suspension order. Unless NEON cooperates with ACF, CDI will have to search for an alternate locate to operate the Head Start program. This will take time, and will result in further disruption and uncertainty for the children and their families.”

The CDI hotline that has been setup for NEON Head Start parents was updated Tuesday. At 4:51 p.m. it said CDI would not be operating Head Start Wednesday. There was no further information. At 5:48 p.m. ACF spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said officials were still waiting for a reply on the MoU.

Norwalk is prepared to take legal action, Moccia said.

That will include calling the U.S. Attorney, the Connecticut Attorney General and chief state’s attorney to conduct immediate investigations into NEON’s financial improprieties. Legal action to enforce NEON’s obligations under its lease with the city, including injunctive relief mandating that NEON turn over control of the Head Start program to CDI.

The 5 p.m. deadline exists because CDI needs to find another location if NEON refuses to cooperate, Moccia said. This is “One more final chance,” he said.

He said, “I beg the board, I beg the leadership to please sign this letter of agreement for the kids and then do your appeal process, and argue where you think there is misinformation.”

Doc – Oct 29, 2013, 11-23 AM


11 responses to “Moccia to NEON: Cooperate or we’ll call feds, state for investigation”

  1. M Allen

    Where are the funds coming from to pay to keep NEON daycare operating? If the Head Start funds have been cut, are they diverting funds from other services under the NEON banner in order to fund the interim daycare?
    Deadline Mr. Mayor. Then hit the injunctive relief button.

  2. EastNorwalkChick

    What a mess and NEON is making it worse by their intransigence.
    @M.Allen, they must be and let’s hope they are not taking Federal/State grant funds that are earmarked for specific programs, because then they would be in violation of those grant guidelines….they need to get their house in order.

  3. LWitherspoon

    What standing does the Mayor of a City have to order an investigation of a non-profit headquartered in that City? I’m not aware of any. And NEON is already being examined closely by DSS and presumably the Feds.
    It appears that the City Administration did all it could by insisting that NEON get its financial house in order before receiving any more City money. In fact the City’s decision to deny funding was prescient – CT and the Feds needed significantly more time to realize the ongoing financial mismanagement at NEON.

  4. M Allen

    We need to be very careful to minimize the political implications from this. If and when the city moves to take action, it can’t simply be viewed as political due to the timing. The timing is what it is for a multitude of reasons. I’m pretty sure the Feds didn’t drop the hammer to influence the election.
    The need to move quickly should be driven by A) helping to minimize the disruption for those who depend on these services; and B) to head off a cascading failure within the broader NEON organization. As bad as it is right now, we don’t need to allow it to cascade into other areas, if we can help it.

  5. Oldtimer

    “Cooperate or we will call the State and the Feds to investigate” Does he really believe the State and the Feds are not already well aware ? Or, does he think this sound bite will revive his lagging campaign ?
    He had plenty of opportunity to get involved two years ago when the audit showed about $400K that was not properly accounted for. He seemed only interested in shooting down Joe Mann and stopping the long time City grant to NEON of 1.3 million. A little constructive leadership then could have avoided all this drama and put Moccia in a position to brag about his accomplishments, rather than make empty threats a few days before election.

  6. M Allen

    “A little constructive leadership then could have avoided all this drama and put Moccia in a position to brag about his accomplishments, rather than make empty threats a few days before election.”
    The timing is what it is right now for a multitude of reasons, but most importantly because it has come to a critical moment and time of crisis. But let’s be completely honest here: do you actually believe the Mayor could have avoided all this drama and be able to brag about taking a heavier hand than he did with NEON a couple of years ago? My personal belief is the Mayor would have been labeled in the most severe terms by his opponents and the allies of NEON for coming down on the “anti-poverty” agency that represents so many low-income and minority clients. So while today his opponents can blame him for not doing enough 2 years ago, the fact is they would have blamed him 2 years ago for much more interesting and headline inducing reasons. Maybe its just me but the Mayor was damned if he did then or damned if he does now. Well played.

  7. anonymous

    What I would like to know is, isn’t it illegal what they are doing to the halfway house staff. They have been layed off and still not given a pink slip or final pay.

  8. LMMR

    @annonymous – my understanding is that by law, final paychecks are supposed to be provided by the next payday following a lay off.

    As far as the “pink slip” you should contact the CTDOL directly with your questions; they can provide you with the proper guidance.

  9. Norwalk Lifer

    Oldtimer, I agree 1000%

    Norwalk Lifer

  10. Suzanne

    Moccia should memorize this, then act on it and not at the eleventh hour, at the most expedient time possible for his campaign:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    Theodore Roosevelt

    Moccia could have done something constructive, the political consequences be d—–, because it was the right thing to do not because it was the most expedient. He did not. NEON’s a mess and, now, right before an election, he decides to get tough? Please.

  11. Dawn

    The Norwalk Y shut down and no one batted an eye. The staff did jot old in with their fingertips. They saw that it was done. Why is it that NEON is holding on so long. And do not tell me they are goncerned about the people. If they were they would have fixed things in the first place when Mann left. Instead they hired a high school grad (can she prove it ????) to run a multi million dollar organization. What did they expect.
    Usually when people work for a place like NEON they want to help the poor. They don’t usually take the money and buy fancy suits and cars. Usually they live a sipmple life and work their assss off. But the people at NEON are different for some reason. They are unbelievably unbelievable. They are constantly surprising is with there complete lack of what the right thing to do is.
    When Mann left they had an opportunity.? They blew it.

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