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NEON board president quits, cites agency’s management

NEON 016-20130911
Attorney William Westcott leads the Sept. 11 Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board meeting. He resigned Monday.

Updated, 12:08 a.m. Tuesday, comments from Jack O’Dea, email from Alan Rossi;
12:48 a.m., quote from William Westcott

NORWALK, Conn. – Reports of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now’s (NEON) imminent emergence from the scandals and controversies that have gripped the agency for the past few years are, apparently, premature.

Attorney William Wescott, who was named chairman of the NEON Board of Directors on May 8, resigned from the board Monday, Sept. 23.

“After a great deal of careful consideration,” Wescott said in a letter emailed to the other board members, “I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that my resignation is necessitated by the impossibility of fulfilling my fiduciary obligation to this organization under current management circumstances.

“For several months now, our board has been repeatedly presented with management crises which are frankly inexplicable. Issues of paramount importance to the organization, including our financial solvency and our required compliance with state and federal laws, have been neglected, or worse, outright concealed from the board long past the point when these matters should have been brought to our attention under any reasonable management structure. When this board inquires why it is that such urgent matters were not reported earlier, we are often given explanations which, to my mind, are plainly not believable.

“As a volunteer, I cannot offer my best advice and fulfill my fiduciary duty without receiving information in a competent, timely manner, or when I cannot be certain of the accuracy of the information that is reported to me. Without this confidence which is necessary, I have no choice but resign effective immediately.”

NancyOnNorwalk was not immediately able to reach Westcott for comment.

Board member Jack O’Dea, an outspoken supporter of interim CEO and President Chiquita Stehenson, said he had lunch with Westcott “two weeks ago Friday” and was surprised he resigned.

“I don’t recall hearing him make much of an issue with any of this stuff so I don’t know how to interpret his letter,” O’Dea said.

Westcott was “not a strong chairman,” O’Dea said. “I don’t think it makes a lot of difference,” he said.

Board member Alan Rossi walked out of the Sept. 11 board meeting during an executive session. O’Dea said Rossi had repeatedly questioned NEON’s financing during the executive session, and Westcott shut him down.

Rossi subsequently sent an email to NEON board members with the subject line, “NEON on the brink.”

“I am extremely concerned about NEON’s future, a concern that was intensified by the meeting that we had last week with the Head Start administrators,” Rossi said.

After that board meeting, NancyOnNorwalk asked Westcott about the challenge of being a board member and whether or not he thought progress was being made.

“Everyone here is starting to get to know each other,” he said. “We’re starting to function better all the time. We have yet again a new director. I definitely do think we’re making progress in understanding things that this entirely new board didn’t understand as well before. I think the more we know we can only continue to make progress from here.”

In May, Westcott had sounded a positive but cautionary note when he finished a statement with, “I think our potential is obvious, but the real work that remains cannot be underestimated if we are to see the type of efficient implementation of our resources that would truly make a difference in all eight of the towns that are included in our service area.”

In that statement, Westcott had praised interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious for putting together a new board “that brings a wide variety of talents and experiences. It is both exciting and humbling to be selected as Chair by this accomplished group. It is my most primary hope that by electing officers and appointing committee members we have now reached the final stages of organizing NEON’s internal needs and that we will soon be maximizing our ability to administer successful programs in the community.”

Pheanious recently ended her 18-month interim appointment and was replaced by Stephenson, a management holdover from the Joe Mann administration. Mann was forced out as CEO and president amidst charges of misuse of funds stemming from an audit by the U.S. Office of Inspector General.

The state Department of Social Services recently demanded more than $300,000 in misused grant money be paid back, and another audit of the social service agency is underway.

Nancy Guenther Chapman contributed to this report.

Comments

17 responses to “NEON board president quits, cites agency’s management”

  1. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    It’s about time, I am wondering why Rep.Bruce Morris and any others that are standing by Neon management having bother to just drop by these sites, school, halfway houses and even CTE and speak with staff, they don’t have to mention names, as everyone fear loosing their jobs, so that’s why they call on community leaders who want to see Neon run the right way. You still have the same beat,just a different swag!!! The future mayor, congressman, Representative any state official (DSS)should all speak with staff personnel in all sites

  2. Oldtimer

    That can’t possibly be good news. If he can’t get credible answers in the time he has been there, NEON has not fixed their money management problems and they are running out of time.

  3. Bill

    When are we going to shut down Neon and give their grants to competent groups who don’t have nepotism issues?

  4. Lifelong Teacher

    I agree with the previous posters. What more does it take to see that his place is corrupt through and through, and needs to be shut down.

    Let another agency run Head Start. The certainly aren’t doing a good job at anything higher than babysitting.

  5. Norwalk Lifer

    You don’t’ throw the baby out with the bath water, everyone is reacting to this as if it were the second coming. Another NEON head resigned, you are automatically assuming there is some modus operandi here that is not quite so obvious. To be sure, those that have benefited from NEON are the ones with the most at stake; you, the taxpayer will either continue to fund this organization once flushed of the flotsam and jetsam, or you will fund another. Get used to that fact. But I would not give this one individual that much credence to propose his resignation is some kind of indication of yet more corruption, malefactorious doings, or other fancied flights conjured up by the reality TV crowd. It would be better to see how this plays out post the mayoral election in the fall. After all, it took a while for this pile of garbage to grow, it will take a while to clear it out.

  6. ScopeonNorwalk

    Norwalk Lifer, open your eyes. These new board members have never seen a real financial statement so something is obviously corrupt here. If it’s not corruption then it’s an extreme case of incompetence…if they would’ve let people who knew what they were doing help instead of listening to the likes of Bruce Morris and others they could’ve been saved.

  7. Norwalk Spectator

    @Norwalk Lifer – It would be better to see how this plays out post the mayoral election in the fall.

    The Mayoral elections should have nothing to do with NEON being fiscally sound and transparent. Once again, it is NOT a city agency.

    The resigning chairman said, ““For several months now, our board has been repeatedly presented with management crises which are frankly inexplicable. Issues of paramount importance to the organization, including our financial solvency and our required compliance with state and federal laws, have been neglected, or worse, outright concealed from the board long past the point when these matters should have been brought to our attention under any reasonable management structure. When this board inquires why it is that such urgent matters were not reported earlier, we are often given explanations which, to my mind, are plainly not believable.”

    Wescott’s talking mismanagement of both State and Federal funding. Not good, but sadly, not surprising. And yes, the people who are going to feel the impact of this are the most vulnerable, but that’s NEON’s fault, not the City’s.

    I say shut it down. It’s wrong to waste funding on a program that is demonstratively corrupt. Yes, there are people who are going to need assistance, but surely there must be another agency in the city that can take over the responsibility and see that the funding actually gets to those who need it.

  8. M Allen

    Whichever regulatory agency has the right to do so should sieze control of the entire operation starting now. All stake holders, but most notably the people who depend on NEON’s programs, don’t deserve the the slow painful death this organization is experiencing. It needs a complete reorganization and the only way that is going to happen is by gutting the organization’s leadership to clear the way for change.

  9. Neoscam

    Without indictments and convictions, taxpayers will continue to be fleeced by these con-artists. Using poor children as human shields to fund their excesses will not stop until someone goes to prison. Where are the state police in this matter? Where is our Atty General? Incompetence doesn’t explain $300k in misappropriated credit card transactions. This is criminal activity and nothing less.

  10. piberman

    A real question is why Common Council members, even those with 30 years of service, refuse to get involved and lend City managerial assistance to help get NEON back on its feet. Is it because NEON has long been “Democrat” territory ? If the City has given millions of dollars of funding to an important agency serving our neediest citizens over many decades isn’t there some obligation to at least offer a helping hand ? It would be the “right thing to do”. That neither Mayoral candidate has any suggestions to assist NEON
    speaks for itself. Pretty loudly I’d say. Looks like the leaders of both political parties are sending the community served by NEON a pretty strong message – you’re on your own !

  11. Mike Mushak

    Wow, I have been basically saying this statement from resigned Chair Wescott for years over on the Zoning Commission:
    .
    “As a volunteer, I cannot offer my best advice and fulfill my fiduciary duty without receiving information in a competent, timely manner, or when I cannot be certain of the accuracy of the information that is reported to me”

    The by-laws of the ZC, which we are sworn under oath to uphold, require a monthly financial statement by staff showing ALL transactions. P and Z Director Mike Greene hasn’t produced one in years even though I have requested it numerous times as the by-laws under Article 4 (adopted May 11, 1988, and last revised Sept 17, 2008) give fiduciary responsibility of the ZC directly to the Commission.
    .
    GOP Chair Emily Wilson ignores my requests and is not enforcing the by-laws of the Commission, her basic responsibility. She is running for Common Council with Dave McCarthy, who has said publicly on the record that the by-laws of the ZC don’t matter. He is fine with staff having no accountability and transparency as the by-laws require, and so is his good friend Emily Wilson.
    .
    Will someone please answer me this: Why do GOP politicians in Norwalk like McCarthy and Wilson seem so reluctant to enforce official by-laws that hold P and Z staff accountable for their actions? What are they afraid of?
    .

    What’s happening at NEON has been happening at our P and Z Department for years by staff with impunity. I haven’t seen a monthly financial statement as the law requires in 5 years on the commission, and even though we increased our fines to help pay for experts years ago, we are always told “there is no money” to hire experts, most recently for the independent traffic consultant I requested for the BJ’s application. Where did all that money go, which by my rough calculation should be well over $100,000 by now since we increased our fines?

  12. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    The talk was, they had the backing of so many others who was will to fund and also grants? Perhaps the tax payer in the community that Neon serve prefer not to have their tax money just to give management big salaries, as a non-profit its not a corporate . Perhaps someone who can pull together funding 1st and the tax payer will have their trust Acting President has good intentions, but maybe this is to big for her to pull together. Neon is suppose to service the entire lower fairfield county not just Norwalk!!

  13. JustAsking

    The City of Norwalk did not cause NEON to be in the predictment that it finds itself in. Past and present management is at fault, the blame lies strictly within their midst; yet accountability does not seem to exist in management’s vocabulary. It’s not the Mayor’s job nor that of of Common Council members to offer assistance or bail out NEON with City dollars. And can we stop trying to make this a Democrat vs. Republican thing. It isn’t. They can’t produce any credible financial data! If this had been a corporation, current management would have been fired, indicted, or both. Shut it down and move all services and funding to another competent agency. There are plenty of reputable ones in Norwalk.

  14. M.Mac

    Couldn’t have a better picture! Sassmouth at it’s best!!

  15. two sense

    Its sad to see so much territorial strutting and finger pointing. Great example for the kids. What is plainly obvious is the lack of a cohesive integral dynamic plan with other agencies in town such as Human Services Council, Family and Childrens Agency, People 2 People, D.S.S. D.C.F. and others. Not sure what the benefits were, merging with CTE, seemed more a financial attempt to rescue CTE rather than expand services. Another glaring blinkig light of shame are folks that care more about a salary check as opposed to the mission at hand; to help those that need help. Cmon, now, we can do better, lets all pull together, (in the same direction) and get on with the business at hand. Helping folks. NOW.

  16. Norwalk Lifer

    I beg to differ Norwalk Spectator, it will indeed be interesting to see how this plays out post the election, and it is inexorably tied to that.

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  17. piberman

    To Just Asking:

    Sorry but I disagree. It really is the responsibility for City Department Heads to offer financial management assistance to help get NEON back on its feet. When NEON’s Chairman of the Board resigns in utter frustration citing managerial incompetence its long past time to take notice.
    NEON serves part of our community with tax payer funds. Isn’t there an obligation to make sure the City funds are used wisely if not to care for our fellow citizens. Consider what happened when major financial irregularities were found at the Central Office. The City stepped in and assisted in correcting deficiencies. The studied indifference of City Hall and the Common Council regarding NEON shames our City. We can do better. Much better.

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