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.”