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NEON comes up short on payroll – again

NEON workers listen to the agency's public information officer Scott Harris while trying to find out about their paychecks Monday evening.
NEON workers listen to the agency’s public information officer Scott Harris while trying to find out about their paychecks Monday evening.

Updated, 2:25 a.m., Nov. 5, complete story

NORWALK, Conn. – The atmosphere was tense Monday evening as about 50 people gathered at the home base of an embattled South Norwalk anti-poverty agency trying to find out why, once again, they could not get their paychecks.

Suspicions ran rampant among the group of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) employees in a crowded vestibule at 98 South Main St. as a woman circulated among them, asking them to sign their names on a piece of paper. She repeatedly told them that she had been asked to get names, but not told why.

The employees dashed to the door – cars were gone, they said. Asking them to sign their names had been a diversion they said, giving NEON interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson a chance to escape, they said.

Stephenson had not left the building. She met with them about 20 minutes later and apologized for the situation. It was out of NEON’s control, she said.

The employees – none of whom were willing to be identified — were told there was a problem printing the checks.

“That’s exactly the same thing she said the first time this happened,” an employee said.

Earlier, an employee angrily knocked on the door of the room where the checks were allegedly being printed. It did not open. Then a woman called down from upstairs, saying that she had been told that efforts to get technical support from ADP had failed.

Staff members were not answering the phone, employees said, at about 5:30 p.m. NancyOnNorwalk commenters alerted this reporter to the situation.

The confusion comes 12 days after NEON’s Head Start program was suspended by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which assigned Community Development Institute (CDI) to take over. Stephenson assured parents that childcare would be offered, that she would get the funding.

Many of the employees who were waiting for checks were Head Start employees.

“If they didn’t have the money for us, why did they have us come back to work?” one said.

“If they care so much, give up the program,” one said, in reference to NEON’s resistance to CDI’s attempt to take over Head Start.

Stephenson said last week that CDI and NEON were working out the details of a Memorandum of Understanding that would allow the two agencies to share space at the Ben Franklin Center and at Nathaniel Ely School. NEON runs non-Head Start programs at the facilities.

NEON Communications Director Scott Harris said Monday that an agreement might be worked out within the week.

A recording at the phone number set up as a CDI hotline for Head Start parents said Monday afternoon that CDI had not had meetings or contact with NEON Saturday, but progress had been made with licensing. An updated message said later that CDI had not received information on a start date.

“They’re up there being nasty like we owe them money,” said one employee on her way out the door. She said the employees of a NEON halfway house would not be paid until Wednesday.

“Another story,” one employee said, derisively.

NEON’s state contracts to run halfway houses for the Department of Corrections were recently canceled.

Other employees said their payday had been moved to Monday. They protested. “If you switch payroll to Monday, you only get two checks in the month of November,” one said.

The latest NEON is allowed to legally issue paychecks is Friday, employees said. NEON is violating its contract with its employees, they said, therefore they didn’t have to abide by the contract either.

A female employee said they had been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement last Thursday. That was evidence, she said, that management knew last Thursday that the employees would not get paid on Monday.

Some had signed the confidentiality agreement, some had not, she said. She had not, and pointedly said there was a line at the bottom of the agreement that said it was voluntary.

Another employee said she had called ADP Payroll Services on Thursday and had been told that the checks had been processed.

“This is just ridiculous,” she said. “We shouldn’t be going through this.”

“She’s lying to the parents and she’s lying to the staff,” another said.

Most employees came to NEON’s headquarters at around 5 p.m. One said 3:30 p.m. A woman had driven down from Bridgeport to get her paycheck at 3 p.m. – the time a memo they had been given said they would get their paychecks, they said.

Stephenson had emerged from the seclusion of her office at about 5:30, breezily reassuring employees in the hallway.

“It’s a little glitch,” Stephenson she said. “You’ll see. Before it was Bank of America. Now it’s Citibank.”

An employee told her he was supposed to be at work in Trumbull at 6 p.m. He had no gas in his car, no money in his pocket, he said.

The employees said Stephenson is lying.

“When she says, ‘With that being said’ she’s lying. I think she took a class in manipulating people. Well guess what? It’s not working.”

Harris expressed faith in the story about the problem with printing checks.

“They’re trying to print them right now,” he said, about an hour before most employees left without checks. “That’s what I was told and that’s what I believe. When you get your checks, I think you’ll see there’s a change in the banks.”

One employee said the staff are members of the community, who need the money. She wants NEON to continue, she said. “I want it to get fixed because there is so much good stuff going on here, really important stuff,” she said.

One employee said he had had confrontations with Stephenson. He had been told he was lucky to have a job, that he could be fired, he said.

He referred to the situation as “genocidal austerity,” and expressed frustration that top management had gotten significant raises while the Head Start staff was “demoted, degraded and ostracized.”

Stephenson told him to set up an appointment, he said, which he had been trying to do for three months.

“I really feel there is too much malfeasance going on and we are being run by inept, incompetent leaders,” he said. “They come to meetings late. They don’t answer questions, they are rude, they are unjust. It is now the difference between j-u-s-t-i-c-e and j-u-s-t u-s.”

Original story:

NORWALK, Conn. — Things are getting tense at NEON headquarters in South Norwalk.

At 7:35 p.m., employees still had not been paid and were in the lobby, demanding answers — and pay — from NEON staff.

Reporter Nancy Guenther Chapman is there, talking with unhappy employees. Management is refusing to comment, and told the crowd that they will not address the workers if the reporter remains in the building. She has stepped outside.

We will update.

Comments

25 responses to “NEON comes up short on payroll – again”

  1. Tim T

    Surprised Rilling didn’t have one of his hair brain ideas for this yet. Hurry Harry make an empty promise… QUICK.

  2. life-long Norwalker

    This is not about Rilling, Tim.

  3. Don’t Panic

    Seriuosly. These people should be paid. Thanks NON for keeping an eye on the news that is not election-related.

  4. malcolm

    I hope these employees have filed for unemployment and are not planning on returning to NEON to be used and abused again. Call the Department of Labor, wage and hour complaints department.

    There is no glitch in the system. Stop lying. Checks were delivered to your offices last week. You didn’t receive any grant….another lie. You intimidated everyone into working for the last two weeks knowing there was no money to pay them. You’ve commingled funds until no funds are left to pay anyone.

    Why isn’t School Readiness up in arms now that their teachers haven’t been paid?

    Where is the union? Why aren’t you supporting your members?

  5. Tim T

    life-long Norwalker
    It seems you missed my point, which was that Rilling makes everything about Rilling so he can make empty promises.

  6. Better Norwalk

    This is totally disgraceful! They MUST BE PAID!
    /
    Why doesn’t Stephenson reach into that golden purse where she’s been collecting a high salary for so long and for absolutely, NOTHING!
    /
    How can someone take from a service such as this? Take a large salary, drive up to NEON in a nice new car? What the HELL?
    /
    Stephenson, learn to humble yourself in presence of people who have so little! Don’t increase your salary, bring a new car to this establishment and on and on… At least help those that worked FOR YOU or WITH YOU.
    /
    These employees who worked hard, deal with issues I would guess no one on this news wire would want to do, have the right to be paid their wages!
    /
    Come on Stephenson, if NEON cannot make payroll, I’m sure you’ll find some cash. Check your inflated purse, I’m sure you could find a way…
    /
    Time to take up donations if this really goes bad!

  7. I was actually waiting for Rilling to promise something to them as well…
    It seems to be his mantra these past few weeks…
    Promises, promises to all these organizations, unions, people….
    *
    Wow, can’t wait to see if NoN has them all lined up to keep Rilling good on his word…
    (nah, they won’t – they’ll just write another skewed piece as to rationalize their refusal to be unbiased)

  8. Better Norwalk

    Irishgirl:

    I agree, how can Harry govern Norwalk at this point? So many rainbows and ponies promises I stopped counting.
    /
    Doesn’t matter much, Dick Moccia will win tomorrow and we can be thankful for making sure Norwalk keeps moving forward.
    /
    But as of NEON and the employees, it’s utter disgust I have with what transpired. I can only hope this establishment will now find the leadership they need so desperately. These employees MUST BE PAID NO EXCEPTIONS!

  9. Linda who

    Did someone say department of labor? They told these poor workers they have to wait 30 DAYS without pay before anything can be done. Another useless office.

  10. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    HOW MUCH SHOULD THIS BE ALLOWED TO GO ON. WE KNOW ITS BEEN THREE TIMES THE EMPLOYEE HAD TO WAIT FOR THEIR PAY. AND THEN TO LISTEN TO THE ACTING CEO MAKE PROMISES. WHEN WILL IT STOP!!!!!! IT’S TAKING A MIGHTY LONG TIME FOR THE STATE, FEDERAL, AND THE CITY TO STEP IN. THE PARENTS AND CHILDREN AND NOW THE EMPLOYEES ALL HAVE BEEN LIED TO. WHY NOT STOP NOW MRS STEPHENSON , YOU HAVE THREATEN THE JOBS OF YOUR EMPLOYEE IF THEY SPOKE TO THE MEDIA, YOU’VE HAD PARENTS GO OUT IN RAGE, ASKING THE MAYOR FOR MONEY. STOP USING THESE PEOPLE FOR YOUR GO BETWEEN. IF ALL OF YOUR HIGH PAYED STAFF WOULD TAKE A CUT IT MAY BE ENOUGH TO GO AROUND. AFTER ALL ITS ABOUT THE CHILDREN AND THE PEOPLE WE SERVE IN OUR COMMUNITY AND ITS NOT ABOUT YOU.
    PS. STOP BEFORE ITS TOO LATE

  11. ScopeonNorwalk

    You know who hasn’t weighed in on this, new Neon board member and south norwalk councilman Mike Geake. Loud on nonsense silent on the issues…and his opponents should feel free to use that at the polls against him….MIKE GEAKE: LOUD ON NONSENSE, SILENT ON THE ISSUES.

  12. Does anyone else want to know who else has not weighed in on this…
    BOB DUFF!!
    *
    Wow….he is such a huge disappointment.
    *
    EVERYONE SHOULD BE CALLING HIM

  13. M Allen

    Do the Directors, past, present or newly minted, have some immunity? Because I’m surprised any have stayed on, let alone join recently, given the potential liability they have for the fiduciary roles of overseeing the management of this organization. Saying “I didn’t know” won’t be an answer.

  14. Norwalk Lifer

    This is ridiculous!!!! Ms. Stephenson should have gotten in her car, drove to Staples, purchased a checkbook, called the bank, authorized the checks, and spent the entire day writing out checks HERSELF!!!!!!

    One side is just as bad as the other; deflect blame, obsfucate, conflate, and redirect focus.

    That is NOT a leader!, that my friends, is called “window dressing”! and it gives women in business a bad name, and I am one of those women!!!!

    Just stupid,,, really

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  15. The Norwalker

    I know employees that work at Neon who know that funding checks for their programs have been coming in regularly. There is absolutely no reasons for these employees not to be paid. For programs that are currently unfunded NEON should do the best they can without causing problems with the funded programs operations.

  16. EastNorwalkChick

    I’m going go out on a limb here and bet that Ms. Stephenson and the executive staff have been paid their salaries…..

  17. The Norwalker

    I wonder if Stephenson knows or cares that she has employees living paycheck to paycheck? Also scheduling to release paychecks late on Monday afternoon really means that the employees will be able to deposit their checks Tuesday morning if any Banks are open.

  18. M Allen

    Have the documents been secured? Shredders locked up? I don’t say that as a joke. Because we all know an investigation is coming. Its just a matter of time. Let’s make sure the evidence doesn’t walk out the back door.

  19. WHAT?

    As Jack O’Dea and Chiquita like to say: ‘connect the dots, people.’ It makes a clear picture: lies, lies, lies. PLEASE: go look at the scattergun series explanations over the last two months for no pay. In order they are: a computer glitch, then a problem at ADP, then a switch to a new payroll company, then a switch to a different payday to harmonize with funding, MY FAVORITE: the government shutdown, now above another problem with ADP (wait I thought they switched to a new company), also throw in today a problem with both Bank of America and Citibank (man, NEON has such bad luck with banks).
    /
    /
    I wonder: did the mass exodus of board members a month ago — who all complained of not receiving reliable financial info — foretell of this at all?
    /
    /
    It no longer matters what the real explanation is, how can an 18m organization continue to be run by a person with a a high school diploma who lies straight to everyone’s faces? It is a majestic mix of both incompetence and rank deceit.

  20. Daisy

    With what Stephenson and her relatives make, I imagine that car she’d have driven to Staples would be a Beemer.

  21. malcolm

    Did the checks bounce? Is that why they stopped issuing them? I hope these employees join together in a work stoppage until this team is removed NOW!

  22. T. Smith

    Surely someone from the state can step in and force the board to get rid of Chiquita Stephenson. She obviously has no regard for the employees who work beneath her. Those people have taken the initiative to work and not live off the system and they deserve to be paid. These people have no money for food, gas, and they can’t pay their rent. I’m sure Chiquita’s family is not hungry and she hasn’t run out of gas any where. Also let’s not forget about the CFO she is just as guilty as Chiquita. I’m also pretty sure issuing your employees bad checks is a crime. Why haven’t the police shown up for her yet? I’m sure she could care less about the humiliation her employees have experienced when they walked into the bank trying to cash a bad check.

  23. Ark

    Just remember that Harry Rilling is running as the man from NEON. His campaign was birthed by former NEON Director Bob Burgess and he was part of Stephenson recent show protest at City hall and he thinks the City should have given NEON money for head start. A vote for Harry Rilling is a vote for NEON.
    ***
    Thank you Mayor Moccia for cutting off this corrupt organization 2 years ago. You saved the City a ton of money by not giving cash to Stephenson and her family employees!

  24. lael

    @Ark–Excellent points and all too true!

    I wonder how many of us are waking up today seeing the light of that tax freight train heading our way and seriously considering moving out of Norwalk now. Had our new mayor been Miklave or Kimmel –fine. Moccia did a great job but these are respected leaders in the community that know what they’re talking about. They understand how the city operates and the budget process. Agree with them or not, they are men of integrity who have NORWALK’S best interest at heart. Sad to see people have become so gullible—and uninformed of the issues.

  25. unaffiliated

    What does Chiquita make?
    What is Rilling’s pension? What’s his salary?

    Come on Mr Mayor – fix it!

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