NORWALK, Conn. – The former leader of an embattled South Norwalk anti-poverty agency, who was described as being on unpaid leave after paychecks bounced, was dismissed Monday night by the agency’s board of directors in a split vote.
Four Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board members voted in favor of dismissing former interim NEON CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson, while four abstained. Only eight were present, one by phone.
NEON Board Chairman Mike Berkoff said Stephenson had disobeyed a direct order when she issued the paychecks that bounced. Board member Dale Ferguson, who abstained, said in an email obtained by NancyOnNorwalk after the meeting that Stephenson was being slandered. Ferguson said Stephenson has been working from home while allegedly on unpaid leave.
An attempt to contact Stephenson failed.
“There are several reasons that support and require the unpaid leave and termination of Mrs. Stephenson,” Berkoff said as the board meeting began. “First, Chiquita was given direct orders not to issue any checks when funds were not in the account. Second, Chiquita issued checks in bad faith. Three, Chiquita was told that issuing bad checks was wrong and criminal. Four, the actions of Chiquita brought damage and harm to NEON that cannot be repaired or recovered.”
The only discussion concerned the mechanics of the vote. Board members Jack O’Dea, Michael Geake, Angela Edwards (by telephone) and Berkoff voted to terminate Stephenson.
Board members Cynthia Bowser, Paola Ochoa, Vanessa Parker and Ferguson abstained. Ferguson protested that the resolution had failed because it only got four votes, but Geake and Berkoff said it had passed, as a majority of those present had voted for it.
Geake and Ochoa have not been sworn in yet.
Ferguson sent an email to all board members Monday afternoon. It was leaked to NancyOnNorwalk Monday night.
“All of the funding that is coming in is from the work that Chiquita and her team were already working on,” the email said. “I’m board secretary I see the minutes and attachments. Why are we allowing our current Acting CEO/President to take the fall for what we know to be a set up and we have many facts. Our problem as a board is that we did not communicate the facts that we had publicly yet we are allowing DSS and others to make false statements.”
Berkoff did not return an email and a phone call requesting a response to the allegations made in the email.