NEON board member reveals email Peña sent to Dems

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NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now) board member Jack O’Dea, right, listens to Chairman William Westcott (not shown) at the last NEON board meeting.

Updated, 4:31 a.m., comment from Pat Pheanious

NORWALK, Conn. – An email sent to discourage Democratic Norwalk mayoral candidates from attending a town hall-like meeting Wednesday in South Norwalk has been obtained by a board member of the agency that organized the event.

Common Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large), who has been embroiled in an ongoing dispute with NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now) in his role as a leader of the South Norwalk Community Center, urged the mayoral candidates not to go to Wednesday’s community meeting organized by NEON, which, according to NEON CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious, was meant to give community members a chance to see the candidates for themselves.

The email was first reported on NancyOnNorwalk.

“It’s an outrage,” Pheanious said. “Somebody figured people needed to know.”

On Friday, NEON board member Jack O’Dea sent NancyOnNorwalk a copy of the brief and to-the-point email from Peña to all four Democratic candidates:

Gentlemen – I would strongly encourage all of you NOT attend tonight’s NEON forum.

In my opinion, you are all being set up and these folks running this forum CANNOT be trusted!


The email was dated at 10:34 a.m. Wednesday.

O’Dea, who lives in Stamford, thought it important for Norwalk voters to know what their elected official had been doing, calling Peña a “wannabe boss.”

“As a lifelong registered Democrat myself I always thought that we Democrats were all about openness and transparency. … I guess that this must not always be the case,” he said in an email. “This type of intimidation has no place in local, state or national politics. Shame on anybody who uses these tactics and congratulations to the Norwalk mayoral candidates who obviously chose not to listen to him and who showed up in spite of him to make their case to the citizens of Norwalk.”

Peña expressed skepticism about O’Dea’s credibility and speculated that NEON Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson had brought him on board to be her chief advocate.

“Let’s be realistic,” he said in an email. “My recommendation to my fellow Democrats was to help them avoid or be subjected to all the ridiculous behavior of NEON leadership staff. I mean look at the craziness I have had to deal with and continue to respond to. It’s tiresome, but I will be relentless in my pursuits because they are guided by the Just principles.”

All four Democratic candidates said Peña’s email did not influence them. District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra, who has been endorsed by Peña, arrived nearly an hour late to the meeting. Andy Garfunkel did not attend, but said he was focusing his time and energy on getting signatures to get on the primary ballot.


11 responses to “NEON board member reveals email Peña sent to Dems”

  1. Norwalk Lifer

    Just as bad as the mayor, enough said, you do not “strongly urge”, you allow candidates to make their own choices and set up venues where they can listen to all of those stakeholders called citizens. In my view, this young man needs a lesson in moderation, he has none, just because you were given an opportunity to act as a leader, does not mean you have unlimited power.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Anne Sullivan

    What are “Just principles?”

  3. EveT

    What does “you are being set up” refer to? Set up for what?

  4. Don’t Panic

    When will SNCC be hosting a forum?

  5. Suzanne

    What is this? High school? Sharks vs. Jets?

  6. LWitherspoon

    “In my opinion, you are all being set up and these folks running this forum CANNOT be trusted!”
    If Mr. Pena were on the receiving end of a comment such as this, he would be the first to suggest that said comment is racist.

  7. Neon releases Pena’s email a mere TWO days prior to a NEON scheduled meeting to hire an outright liar and protege of “Slick Willy the Snake Oil salesman Joe Mann” …
    Again, NEON is snickering at both the taxpayers and state’s agency and going ahead with this meeting to hire an outright liar (if she didn’t lie on her resume, you bet she would have shoved that degree in everyone’s faces).
    The unmitigated gall of NEON, with Stephenson almost getting hold of the reigns, is freaking unbelievable!!!
    Bottom line: it is obvious that Pheanious and Stephenson planned this release hoping that the hoopla around the email will divert the public’s attention from more slimy schemes at NEON.

    (Editor’s note: This comment has been edited to conform with our comment policy.)

  8. RBurnett

    What a travesty!! What responsible public servant would advise Mayoral candidates not to attend a public forum that allows them to present their platforms to the voters? A very sad thing indeed. Talk about “slick willy”, we should have said “slick Warren” as he was trying to discredit NEON AND the NAACP by this move. HE tried to use the Mayoral candidates in order to further his agenda.

  9. loveforthecity

    Jack the Wacko O’Dea
    Chiquita no degree Stephenson
    Pat disaster Phenious

    @Rburnett there is no agenda for Pena. He is merely doing the right thing. Don’t confuse what is really going on.

  10. Steve Serasis

    Whether Mr. Pena was right or wrong needs to be answered only after ALL the facts are provided. What I was motivated to address upon reading this piece is the following. The South Norwalk Community Center was decimated systematically by NEON, while Ms. Stephenson was there, and part of the decision making staff. SNCC is a needed community center that did a lot for the community, and helped countless folks…I KNOW, I worked closely with them. The SNCC Director, was dismissed because of NEON basically slowly cutting the center off. This wonderful woman still works there!!! VOLUNTARILY, so as too HELP people in need. She should be the new NEON Executive Director…REALLY. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out who has the best interests for the community.

    Secondly, if I may, I’d like to pose a real life basic business question. What company small or large in the intelligent business world of ours keeps, or even contemplates putting an employee in charge who was quite prominently a part of the NEON Administration, that was doing things wrong? The answer: No, company does this…everybody goes, the house is cleaned, and new blood is infused. Business 101 everyone…and business is business. This applies to non-profits like NEON, as well. In actuality, they should be held to a higher standard, as they are an Anti-Poverty agency.

  11. Joe Espo

    Chiquita Stephenson should have bailed out even before the earlier Hour and NON posts left their footprints on Stephenson’s Google/Yahoo search profile. Now she has a ton more hits that can pop up when any future employer does a rudimentary search.
    The biggest black mark is The Hour’s editorial which puts forward the issues succinctly and gingerly labels her a credentials fraudster without actually saying as much. The NON video in which she threatens to sue anyone inquiring into the veracity of her representations virtually nukes her reputation.
    The pronouncement by NEON Board member Jack O’Dea- that he’s seen “the record” and that she’s completed her degree requirements- is uncorroborated by the school because the school has been gagged by Stephenson invoking the FERPA statute, which requires that the college not disclose, expressly or impliedly, personally identifiable student information from its records. But if the school was gagged, how did Jack O’Dea see what he says he saw? Hmmm?
    The only way O’Dea’s and Stephenson’s claims can be corroborated is for Stephenson to authorize release of her academic records and to explain the “clerical error” that led up to this embroglio. She further should explain how she managed to receive an associate’s degree in political science at a time when the school didn’t offer such a degree.
    I do feel sorry for her but she has to go. There should be no city funds conveyed to NEON until she is terminated and NEON cleans house.

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