NEON board member lashes out at chairman

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Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board member Dale Ferguson speaks at a recent meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board of Directors member is challenging the dismissal of former interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson and claiming that the embattled social service agency’s efforts to get back on its feet are being illegally conducted by two board members alone.

Board secretary Dale Ferguson made those claims and more in a scathing email sent to NEON board members prior to their Monday night meeting, a copy of which was obtained by NancyOnNorwalk.

NEON Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff did not return a request for comment.

Ferguson also said current interim CEO and President the Rev. Tommie Jackson had been illegally appointed to his position at a closed-door meeting Nov. 8.

The email defended Stephenson who, Ferguson wrote, is being slandered and wrongfully dismissed. She wrote that NEON’s “current leaders may have mislead and/or colorfully presented the information given to us Board members and other stakeholders.”

“At the present time, not one of us are being informed about the direction of the agency,” she wrote, “and, if we are it is being done by individuals being called one by one and not as a Board and again, I do not believe that the information is accurate. As a board we have fiduciary responsibilities and currently, we are not functioning as a board since, Rev. Jackson was illegally voted on at our special board meeting.”

According to Ferguson, “The candidates for new board member slate was voted on and accepted by the neon board at the November board meeting, the board was to officially vote the candidates in and officially swear them in. However, this did not take place.

Therefore, I believe that the vote in November for Reverend Jackson was illegal because of the following:

*no proper notice of the agenda and action being taken

* new board members in attendance were not voted in and not sworn in

*personnel committee did not meet to discuss the Rev Jackson action

*governance committee did not meet to discuss the Rev Jackson action

The vote almost did not happen. At that meeting, board Berkoff planned to hold a vote on appointing Jackson as interim CEO and president. However, upon arrival for the meeting, Ferguson informed him that board member Elizabeth Dukes had resigned earlier in the day, leaving the board one member short of a legal entity. The board needed to have 15 members.

In the executive session meeting, Dukes was reportedly coaxed back onto the board by email or phone and voted with the majority to appoint Jackson.

Jackson’s appointment was ratified in Monday night’s public meeting by a 4-0 vote, with four abstentions. One vote was cast by phone. Berkoff said earlier the vote was needed to make the appointment part of the minutes.

“At this time, as far as I can see, we are committing the same mistakes as the previous board before us,” Ferguson wrote Monday. “By only allowing a handful of board members to make decision or, in our case, two.

“Meetings are being held with community leaders, funders, elected officials and attorneys, what is being said and by who?

“Every meeting that our Board Chair and Rev. Jackson attend, they are slandering Chiquita’s name and, they are making false statements. For example, this past Friday, parents shared that our Board Chair informed them that Chiquita closed down the schools and that she embezzled the money for the operation of the schools and, the parents are willing to say publicly exactly what was and, is being said to them by the current leadership.”

Ferguson claimed that the words incited some parents to “set out to cause physical harm to Chiquita because of false information.”

Ferguson said she was at a meeting two weeks ago “with Jack (O’Dea) and Mike (Berkoff). Mike asked Chiquita not to go to the office however, Mike was requesting that Chiquita work from home suggesting that her work computer could be brought to her home. Chiquita has and is working diligently with the neon staff to help facilitate the funding in DOC, Head Start, & other monies owed to NEON yet, the board chair along with Rev. Jackson has stated that Chiquita is no where to be found. Allegations and accusations are being made by Rev Jackson and board chair without facts. … By our board chair not following our organizations by-laws, making decisions without holding committee meetings, board meetings, overall communication and actual board members voting on a decision that he made without board approval, example, we never voted to place our Acting CEO/President on leave with no pay so it does not stand yet, she was not paid on Friday although, she is diligently on point.”


15 responses to “NEON board member lashes out at chairman”

  1. Dawn

    Berkoff told her to work from home with no pay. OMG.
    I think that he is criminal number one then. He basically gave her the access.

  2. Bamboozled

    This situation keeps getting worse! I have a feeling that this will not be the end of it. I will say criminal charges should be brought up but I am almost sure it wasn’t just Chiquita involved. If the board is operating as alleged, it will pose basically the same issues as before

  3. Tearful Humble One

    People are fighting for Chiquita. What about all the employees that this mess has affected. All the hard working employees that received termination letters, though they have been honest, hard working employees How do we right that ship? The families that were affected when their loved one were taken out of the halfway houses. RIGHT THAT SHIP PLEASE!!!!

  4. Tearful Humble One

    @ Bamboozled. You are right Chiquita is NOT the only one that they should be looking at. DOES MARY MANN OR DANIELLE WATSON-YATES name ring a bell. And if Berkoff is saying she was given instructions not to write the checks he had plenty of time to stop the checks from rolling out, seeing they didn’tstart giving them out til almost 1am that Tues morning.

  5. “current leaders may have mislead and/or colorfully presented the information given to us Board members and other stakeholders.”
    Umm Ferguson, don’t you think Chicky was doing the exact same thing to all the public, the board at that time, the parents, the teachers and finally the upper tier government agencies that basically gave NEON and outline to follow on how to manage and direct NEON just three weeks ago? My what short-term memories you have.
    The fact that Berkoff told Chicky to bring her laptop home to work is just stupid beyond words. Seriously Berkoff, what does Chicky have on you that you made such a gad awful move. And given what she did, she should be doing work at no pay – but the work she should be doing must be limited to general duties like sweeping/cleaning etc… Chicky should NOT have had any access to NEON’s sensitive information.
    This situation is so contaminated, we the people should demand that all this stops now and let other agencies do the jobs they are capable of performing instead of NEON.
    Just stop the madness at NEON. Let it close down and let the State Attorney General, the IRS and FBI start their investigation. This is major fraud.

  6. M Allen

    “As a board we have fiduciary responsibilities…”
    Yes you do Ms. Ferguson. Yes you do. And that is why when the eventual investigation occurs, you will not be immune from criminal prosecution if wrongdoing is proved. Because you had a fiduciary responsibility to hold management accountable and none of the board members did that. So enjoy focusing on the validity of votes for Rev. Jackson or against Chiqita. You can use that as evidence that you tried to hold that useless board to some standard. Of course, your unwillingness to press for answer, detailed financials and other missing information, while allowing the agency to rob from one program to pay for others, and potentially allow criminal wrongdoing to occur, will probably outweigh your issues with these votes. Winter is coming, as they say. And it’s going to be a cold one for board members when all is said and done.

  7. The Norwalker

    M Allen

    I think that it would be informing to see which programs paid the highest percentage of Administration salary. I think that then you would see the logic behind using one program’s funds to fund another program.

  8. The Norwalker

    Chiquita and Danielle and Mary Mann have to go and it is a waste of time to argue about how it was done.

  9. M Allen

    Norwalker – many programs will have some level of overlap in terms of administrative salaries and overhead. But if they were running Head Start as though the city’s money was still coming, then that goes well beyond just overlapping costs. The only way any of this will be discovered with any specific detail is through a full-fledged audit as well as, most likely, subpoena power.

  10. Bamboozled

    I agree @ tearful humble one and M Allen. Ferguson should of been asking those same questions that she is now. The only reason she is so defensive I believe is because her and chiquita’s sister are best buds. The defense should be in that of the innocent staff and families who had to pay for the wrongdoings of management. The files are shredded for the most part and computers have been removed so I am nor sure of the likelihood of charges. I truly hope that Rev Jackson upholds his duties and do the families and staff they sue diligence. I pray that he does not get caught up in past practice behavior as did others..they always state food intent and then switch up eventually. He needs to make his own judgments because they will LIE! Any or All board members who didn’t uphold their fiduciary duties and responsibilities should go as well. Berkoff and O’dea trying to cover there butts now boy!!!

  11. M Allen

    Well, Berkoff is new, is he not? O’Dea on the other hand has been a fixture. And not just a long-time board member, but one who has taken a front-man position in trying to explain away and deflect and protect the status quo. He’d be right up there on the Most Wanted board. You can’t legitimately blame newer board members. The issues here run so deep and for so long that you can’t just hang the new guys. But any board member going back to the days of Mann better be finding out what their rights are. Because any investigation will go back years. Or should.

  12. Bamboozled

    Berkoff came after the many resignations. Maybe he wasn’t aware of all the things fully but he was in a position to make a difference. He wasn’t around and in the beginning he didn’t ask many questions…I just believe that there has to be a way to get this wrong rectified there just has to be…I am hoping for the best!! This is not right at all!!

  13. The Norwalker

    M Allen

    Most non-profits that I worked with spread admin. salaries evenly across as many budgets that would accept Admin cost. With the crazy salary increases that some of Admin Staff received, I doubt that they went back to all programs and asked for a change in Admin salary amount.

    If Headstart was paying a Lion’s share of Admin. Salary that could be a reason that NEON Admin chose to run the program when it was under-funded.

  14. Hersheyteach101

    @IrishGirl you seem to think you know so much about what is going on Berrkoff is a lieing sack …! He has been part of all this since day one he was there to receive the paychecks and help passed them out as well. Then when they bounced he found out it was a glitch at the banks, a few of your so call congressmen and mayors got behind close doors and bullied there way in to cover there self from all the fraud they are part of at Neon. Then the next day he then reported that he did not know what happened and know they ear going to start an investigation, please he needs to be investigated his self.

    (This comment was edited to conform with our policy.)

  15. @Hersheyteach101,
    What makes you think I know what is going on? I am just commenting on what is being presented with my thoughts and “theories”. I have no more inside info than “Joe Schmoe from OshKosh Wisconsin”.
    And please don’t think Bob Duff and Morris are my so called congressmen – they don’t do jack for me nor do they represent my political views. So if you think they are responsible for alot of this crap going on – well, I’m 5 steps ahead of you. They are responsible.
    If Berkoff is also in on all the criminal activities and he is just playing big man on campus – then he is to be booted and arrested as well. LET THEM ALL HANG. It seems like they all have their hands in on this. NEON is done. Over.
    As for the rest of your post – I couldn’t follow your ranting, sorry.

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