NEON steering toward bankruptcy; legality of Stephenson’s dismissal challenged

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Former Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) interim CEO and president Chiquita Stephenson listens as NEON board members discuss finances Thursday in South Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Chiquita Stephenson sat silently Thursday evening in South Norwalk as Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board members discussed taking the agency into bankruptcy and whether the former interim CEO and president had really been dismissed last month.

The Rev. Tommie Jackson, serving as temporary NEON CEO and president, said during the meeting that it is his position that the agency needs to go into bankruptcy. Board Chairman Mike Berkoff indicated assent.

“As soon as we have more information from the legal counsel we’ll be able to bring it to board meeting,” Berkoff said.

Board member Cynthia Bowser, present by telephone, brought the topic up. “We have to really deal with the reality of the agency to figure out how we save the agency, specifically for the people that the agency serves,” she said.

Board secretary Dale Ferguson said last month’s vote to dismiss Stephenson was, in actuality, a no vote, as four members had abstained.

Four members voted to dismiss Stephenson, one by telephone. The minutes, recorded by Ferguson, say that the motion was denied, although Berkoff and board member Michael Geake had said that it passed.

Geake asked her why the minutes said the motion failed.

“In the NEON bylaws it states ‘board members present,’” Ferguson said. “Then I went to the 11th edition of Roberts Rules of Order and it stated that if the bylaws specifically state present board members, abstentions actually become ‘no’s’.”

She said she had sent an email to the board explaining that. Geake asked her for the specific passage but she didn’t have it.

“If the vote requires a majority or 2/3 of the members present, an abstention will have the same effect as a no vote,” she said. “So if the bylaws itself didn’t state 2/3 of the board members present then correct, the motion would have been accepted. But because the bylaws state 2/3 of the members present, per Roberts Rules of Order, the abstentions actually become no’s, which makes the motion denied.”

The board voted to table the approval of the minutes so it could study Roberts Rules.

Stephenson sat taking notes. She did not take the opportunity to speak to the board when Berkoff opened the public speaking portion of the meeting. Neither did anyone else.

Ferguson also challenged a very brief financial report from Jackson.

“Staff are being paid. Monies are forthcoming from funders,” Jackson said.

“All the board members we’ve had since I’ve been a board member, we’ve always gotten a breakdown of all the finances,” Ferguson said. “The past two board meetings we haven’t received anything except your verbal statements.”

Jackson said a detailed financial report had been emailed to the board on Dec. 3. Board members said they didn’t get it.

He said staff members would be paid Friday for their work Nov. 25 to Dec. 6. Next week they will be brought current to Dec. 20.

“It will not bring the withholding, the dues and the insurance withholdings current,” Berkoff said. “There was a payment made of $162,000 for withholding taxes.”

There is $255,000 still owed, he said.

Bowser talked of getting positive publicity for NEON to encourage charitable donations.

“I think it’s unfair that Stamford and NEON in Norwalk have to take all of this flak for some of the shortcomings of Connecticut Department of Social Services,” she said.

Jackson said funders are not interested in giving money to pay debts, just to fund new or existing programs.

“The need to declare bankruptcy and to recreate the agency becomes more important than ever,” Bowser replied.

Jackson said he agreed with her.

“If I understand correctly there’s no means to look forward to getting any more help from the Department of Social Services?” she asked.

“That’s not true,” Jackson said. “There is more help forthcoming from DSS.”


23 responses to “NEON steering toward bankruptcy; legality of Stephenson’s dismissal challenged”

  1. Lifelong Teacher

    Here it comes. Don’t be surprised if Chickie gets reinstated or files a lawsuit and receives a big fat confidential settlement. This will be another travesty.

  2. Don’t Panic

    Just as I said, that was not a majority vote.

  3. Casey Smith

    Ferguson also challenged a very brief financial report from Jackson.
    “Staff are being paid. Monies are forthcoming from funders,” Jackson said.
    “All the board members we’ve had since I’ve been a board member, we’ve always gotten a breakdown of all the finances,” Ferguson said. “The past two board meetings we haven’t received anything except your verbal statements.”
    Jackson said a detailed financial report had been emailed to the board on Dec. 3. Board members said they didn’t get it.”
    If the financial report was emailed on December 3, that was more than two weeks ago. He didn’t add a line to the email saying, “Please email me back to confirm you received this and can open the document”?
    (Deep Sigh!!) Same old, same old…..

  4. Ryan

    Maybe Ms. Stevenenson won’t be the escape goat after all…..

  5. dawn

    How do you come to a board meeting as the Execitive Director for an agency that has had nothing but financial chaos, and have the nerve to say that you do not have the financials, but you emailed them.
    You have the nerve to come to the meeting empty handed. Could every board member be mistaken. I think not.
    This guy is obviously more of the same.
    Did the members of the board have nothing to say. When told they were emailed.
    I am so socked that he did not come witha detailed accounting of the financials.
    i go back to a statement i made a long time ago. NEON needed to aim high and get a person with financial creds. Not a person who preaches from a pulpit. Make him the PR guy. But the head of the dragon needs to be a money person.

  6. dawn

    Also. I am still waiting Mark. What compensation is this guy getting.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Dawn

      According to what both he and board Chairman Mike Berkoff have told us, and we reported, The Rev. Tommie Jackson is not taking a salary until all the employees are paid what is due them. That has not happened yet. We do not know what the compensation might be after that, but the position is currently slotted at $160,000. Given the financial morass, it is my guess — and we will try to confirm this — that it will be a while before there is any salary paid to Jackson.

      UPDATE 5:27 p.m.: According to the board, when and if the Rev. Jackson begins taking a salary, the rate will be $128,000, not $160,000.

  7. LWitherspoon

    If Roberts Rules and the bylaws confirm that the motion dismissing Ms. Stephenson did not pass, was she ever actually dismissed? Is she owed salary and benefits since the vote to dismiss her?
    Those board members who abstained should explain why. There has already been too much gamesmanship related to events at NEON. One hopes this isn’t more of the same.
    For avoidance of doubt, why not hold another vote, to be 100% sure that the clock has stopped running on any potential salary and benefits owed to Ms. Stephenson?

  8. A Better Norwalk

    Dawn is 100% correct in how the HELL Jackson shows up without full financial records and handing them out prior to calling the meeting to order? Then start discussion of bankruptcy without the details? What the HELL? How did this person become temp CEO and president of NEON?
    As for Stephenson’s dismissal, the records show different, so now NEON will have to compensate retroactively for salaries owed. They have to table the minutes and research Roberts Rules? Really? Good Lord, how is this a functioning board?
    This entire board needs to be dissolved and a new one appointed AT ONCE! The bleeding and corruption has to end and end TODAY!
    Where is Duff and Hymes on all of this mess?
    Neon needs strong leadership and a forensic accounting of all the records dating back as long as possible and it has to be done NOW!
    This hurts the families and children who are innocent victims and it destroys any credibility of those who attempt to follow the rules and do good for the community only to be misled by a board that has no leadership and skills to recover from this travesty.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Better, Dawn

      The problem with the vote had to do with Ms. Stephenson’s dismissal. Prior to that she was on unpaid leave of absence. That has not changed. We will have more shortly.

  9. Oldtimer

    It certainly sounds as if NEON has been headed for bankruptcy for some time, but nobody has produced any solid financial records. The rules for non-profits getting their support from public agencies may be different than they are for other corporations. If that is where they are heading, they need good records and good legal counsel. They may find out going bankrupt is not the way to go. A lot of people rely on their services and count on the services to continue.

  10. SR Neon Teacher

    The past week we only received a check for two days. Today they say we are only getting two days pay as well, if we even get paid. I wish people would stop lying saying we are current when in all actuality we are three weeks behind, Christmas time at that. Im truly and utterly disgusted that I come into work everyday with a smile on my face and take care of the children and families that we serve to the best of my abilities; yet who is there to help and serve the needs of my family and I? Not NEON!!

  11. A Better Norwalk


    We are all disgusted and applaud on how this service is being run along with the board that cannot even hold a valid session with records in hand.
    This board HAS TO GO! NEON needs a board that has solid experience in entities such as NEON along with financial experience for some members.
    Right before Christmas and employees still are unable to be properly compensated for their time they committed to.
    Where is Hymes and Duff now? NEON needs leadership and we all need answers to WHERE IS THE MONEY!

  12. hersheyteach101

    It is evident that Ms Stephenson has significant information that she has uncovered abd was publicly trying to disclose the information to elected officials, funders and the public only to be ambushed and malined. What I hear is Ms Stephenson is focused on communicating the truth so that familes can be served going forward. She said it doesn’t matter who is providing the services, her findings will affect them as well. So as the community let us hold a meeting so she can share her findingd. Berkoff, Jacksons are in bed with Himes, Duff, Burgess just to name a few from norwalk. Stamford mike berkoff in bed with len miller and stamford elected officials for stamfords missing money and jackson promoted the people involved. Ms stephenson has seem too (upset) many trying to help community lets hear and see what she found. Mike geake a waste of breathe he said drama started when Ms Stephenson showed up at the meeting yet the article said she sat quietly taking notes go figure. I say she has (guts) and is not affraid to fight. With all the attacks I would have left but it seems as though she’s fighting for change and to share the truth. What are people affraid of if they are foused on bettering community. Dont be fooled people know the truth and are affraid to share so Stephensons taking the hit but she keeps coming. Just my observation. What better way to kill the messanger ATTACK ones CHARACTER to change the focus. Food for thought.

    (This comment has been edited for language.)

  13. hersheyteach101

    It seems as though some board members or targeting Ms Ferguson for demanding accountibility and doing her job are they trying to kick her off for ensuring order. Do the attorneys speak to all board members. Where are the minutes. Why is dss silent all of a sudden did Ms Stephenson hit a nerve that could save taxpayers? Who is Riling getting his info from did he eveb speak with Stephenson? Will he be a one time mayor?

  14. Just Wondering

    I am at a loss for words..Why does Neon continue to lie to EVERYONE!! They DID NOT get paid for Nov 25- Dec 6. So please stop with all these lies. Some individuals only received a check today for Nov 28th and 29th that’s it nothing more!! These hard working teachers come to work everyday hoping that all things will come to pass only to find out that their pay continues to be delayed. They can not work for free anymore. Neon who’s them so much more then false promises.

  15. Dawn

    If ms Stephenson has something to say then say it. Is she holding something over someone’s head? The world is waiting. If fact we are eager to hear. If she has something to say call a press conference. The media will be there.
    The fact that she has not tells me a lot.

  16. Dawn

    Mark. What date, time and place is the next bd meeting.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Dawn

      Hard to tell these days. They usually meet once a month, so I would not expect anything until at least the second week in January, maybe the third — unless they call an emergency meeting. We will stay on top of this.

  17. TG

    @hersheyteach- she hasn’t been shut up in any way- in fact NoN have her a forum to present a letter.,Someone who is in hot water, who says she has information but doesn’t just go ahead and disclose it, doesnt look like some heroic whistleblower- she looks like a blackmailer or a liar .

  18. I wonder if a class action law suit against the state of connecticut and the agencies involved for failure to pay wages earned would kick Malloy’s and the Attorney General’s butt into gear.
    Then Malloy should demand Himes, Duff and Morrisson resign (especially the always inept Duff), prosecute everyone in upper “management” (haha) from Mann to Chicky, apportion all programs to capable agencies and shut down NEON for eternity.
    This is an embarrassment to the ENTIRE democratic/liberal party.

  19. Dawn

    Please keep updated. My husband and I would like to attend.

  20. hersheyteach101

    @TG that may be how you feel and you have your right to say , but again this is how I feel and it will not change. thanks for listening!

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