NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board of Directors Chairman Michael Berkoff acknowledged in an email press release Sunday night the contents of a draft audit released in September and said the agency has already taken steps to comply with recommendations in the final audit released Friday.
The audit was conducted for the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) covering the period from Jan. 1, 2012 to June 20, 2013. The draft, and the final audit, made references to problems that continued well into the fall, including missed response deadlines, missed payrolls and unreported Head Start shutdowns.
“Michael Berkoff has read the final audit and understands the concerns communicated in this audit report,” the release stated. “However, Mr. Berkoff, speaking on behalf of the NEON board, noted that the agency has taken steps to address the overall concerns specified in the audit report.”
Among those steps, the release stated, are “reorganizing senior management staff, examining internal financial control procedures and implementing best practices in the operation of NEON, as well as services provided to its client base.”
Those steps include former interim president and CEO Chiquita Stephenson going on unpaid leave, appointing the Rev. Tommie Jackson of Stamford as her replacement, laying off about 100 employees and shutting down several programs, and working to rapprochement with South Norwalk Community Center, with which they share a building.
“Mr. Berkoff expressed hope about the future of the agency in stating that NEON staff are now working assiduously to restore programs, client confidence and overall integrity to NEON,” the release said.
The release said Berkoff would be consulting the incoming mayor of Norwalk, Harry Rilling, and Stamford’s Mayor-elect David Martin, “to provide updates and seek their input on the many important matters concerning NEON and the people served by the anti-poverty agency in both municipalities.”
In related NEON news, there is no change in the status of the Norwalk Head Start program, according to NEON spokesman Scott Harris. NEON’s contract to run the program was suspended Oct. 24 for a minimum of 30 days, and a Colorado-based Community Development Institute was brought in to run the program on an interim basis. The resumption of services has been hung up in negotiations over the use of the Nathaniel Ely and Benjamin Franklin schools, as NEON has separate contracts to use those facilities.