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.”