NORWALK, Conn. – Leadership of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) is heaping praise on the Rev. Tommie Jackson for his work untangling the mess he walked into at the crumbling South Norwalk anti-poverty agency, even as that untangling may well mean sending the agency into bankruptcy.
“The guy has been a godsend,” NEON board chairman Mike Berkoff said of Jackson, who was appointed interim CEO and president in November after employee paychecks bounced. “He’s been excellent, he was the right person to bring in. He has been able to go back to the funders and get funding with paperwork that was not submitted properly.”
Jackson has been able to get money that was due six to eight months ago to try to pay employees and other expenses, Berkoff said. Thursday, Jackson said at a NEON board meeting that employees would be receive checks Friday covering Nov. 25 through Dec. 6.
NancyOnNorwalk has since heard reports that employees did not receive their full paychecks Friday, instead getting checks covering Nov. 28-29. Berkoff promised to look into it Friday night.
Berkoff said Jackson is still working as a volunteer – 60 to 70 hours a week, he said. When and if NEON comes up with the funds, after all employees are brought up to date with what they are owed, Jackson will be paid at a rate of $128,000 a year, Berkoff said. That is less than the reported $160,000 allotted previously for the position, and less than the $135,000 former interim NEON chief Chiquita Stephenson recently said she was accepting before being placed on unpaid leave.
The agency is considering going bankrupt, as reported here Friday. Board member Jack O’Dea said NEON owes “a little bit over $4 million” to creditors.
He again mentioned the funding cut from Norwalk’s budget by former Mayor Richard Moccia, as well as the fact that NEON continued services that were no longer funded under the leadership of interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious.
“Moccia pulls out that 2.6 million and the services weren’t cut,” he said. “The political stuff should have been dumped in his lap.”
Board member Dale Ferguson said Thursday that Jackson was not providing detailed financial reports. Jackson responded that he had sent an email on Dec. 3 that outlined the agency’s finances. Board member Michael Geake and Ferguson said they hadn’t gotten it.
Berkoff said Friday that he had gotten the email. O’Dea spoke of Ferguson with skepticism. Ferguson has been publicly supportive of Stephenson.
“The big issue with Dale Ferguson since this whole board has become under such scrutiny is she doesn’t live in any of these towns that are represented by NEON,” he said.
Jackson is in the process of identifying NEON’s weaknesses, the lack of accounting and checks and balances with procedures, he said.
“We’re trying to find out what we don’t know so far,” O’Dea said. “There are probably a lot of skeletons in closets but we don’t know.”
Jackson communicates with them every day, Berkoff and O’Dea said, in phone calls that go to midnight. He’s doing a great job, O’Dea said.
“People don’t know he is also a lawyer,” he said. “He’s not a dope. He’s a smart guy and he’s motivated and he’s working hard.”