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NEON struggles for life while infighting rages

Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now  (NEON) then-interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson speaks at an August board meeting.

Updated 4:38 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, to add comments from the Rev. Tommie Jackson and to delete now-redundant information from board members near the end of the story.

Updated 6:05 p.m. with comment from governor’s office.

NORWALK, Conn. – When payday rolls around this Friday, all Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now employees will be up to date on their wages, NEON Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff said Sunday night.

NEON workers in the Norwalk office said Friday that W-2 forms had been mailed Jan. 31 from a company in New Jersey, although other workers said they had not received them by the weekend. Jan. 31 was the deadline for companies to send out the tax forms to employees.

And NEON has applied to the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for a jobs training program to begin next fall.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of infighting on the board that has pit several members against Berkoff, transitional Chief Executive Officer the Rev. Tommie Jackson and other board members.

The group, which requested anonymity, contacted NancyOnNorwalk Saturday night with a scathing email and copies of emails sent to Berkoff and Gov. Dannel Malloy demanding various actions.

At the center of it all: a belief that deposed interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson was treated unfairly and was railroaded out of her position by a cabal of board members past and present, Jackson, several elected officials and management at the state Department of Social Services (DSS) and the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

Contacted Sunday night, Berkoff and board member Jack O’Dea declined an immediate response, saying they would not respond to anonymous accusations.

Jackson replied Monday to a late Sunday email, refusing to respond to the anonymous email but reasserting the reason for Stephenson’s removal.

“At least two reasons for the termination of Mrs. Chiquita Stephenson was failure to follow a directive from Michael Berkoff as NEON Board Chairperson, and knowingly issuing bogus checks to employees when there was insufficient funds in the checking account,” he wrote.

Jackson also addressed the delayed paychecks prior to the bounced checks.

“The problem with the three paychecks, September 2013 to October 2013, was no money,” he wrote. “Cash flow was virtually non existent as the government turned off its spigots to NEON. The government action was taken, in part, due to accounting and documentation of costs as well as other reasons.”

Stephenson had blamed the late paychecks on a change in payroll companies and technical issues.

Among other things, the letter to Malloy, with a copy to Attorney General George Jepson, accuses the governor of intending to “dismantle the organization from the start.” It also says Berkoff, Jackson and O’Dea said Malloy “wanted a male in the position of CEO/President,” and that Berkoff said Malloy wanted NEON to fail so he could have its programs and services awarded to DOMUS, a Stamford-based social service agency.

The group accuses DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby of demanding a merger between NEON and Stamford’s failing anti-poverty agency CTE (see attached letter), a merger that ultimately overstressed NEON’s budget.

The letter pins the blame for NEON’s loss of programs and services on Bremby and DSS and calls on Malloy to absolve Stephenson and the current board of claims of mismanagement; to begin an investigation into the “interference and sabotage of NEON by local, state and federal elected officials”; an investigation of former Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia and ACF for the removal of Norwalk’s Head Start program from NEON control; an investigation of the Norwalk Housing Authority, Norwalk Community College, Stepping Stones, state Rep. Bruce Morris, state Sen. Bob Duff and U.S. Rep Jim Himes for their “interference and sabotage of NEON and its programs”; and to clear Stephenson’s name and stating that she, “on behalf of NEON, shared all findings as well as worked diligently with DSS to correct deficiencies found that benefited not only NEON but DSS and the state during their audit.”

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, confirmed his office had received the communication from the NEON group.

“The letter contains not a single shred of truth,” Doba wrote in a Monday email. “The administration has been involved throughout this process to make sure that services are actually being delivered to residents of Stamford and Norwalk, and that taxpayer dollars are being used for their intended purpose.”

In the email to NoN, the group states it intends to try to dismiss Berkoff and Jackson, and that it intends to hold a press conference in the near future.

A NEON board meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, at NEON’s Stamford office, 34 Woodland Ave.

Bremby Proposed Merger

CT DSS letter NEON agency in crisis 10 10 13

NEON final audit with response

Comments

17 responses to “NEON struggles for life while infighting rages”

  1. The Norwalker

    Have we already forgotten the outrageous spending and salary increases approved by NEON past Senior Management?

    What about Rev. Jackson’s lack of communication with various departments of the State of Connecticut about NEON’s State funded Programs?

    There is a old saying…”You can’t teach a crab to walk straight”

  2. Casey Smith

    Is somebody from daytime TV writing the script for this?
    .
    Am I the only one hearing the background drumbeat of “Victim, victim, victim…”?
    .
    It’s pretty sad to hear over and over and over again….it’s Moccia’s fault, it’s DDS’s fault, it’s the Governor’s fault, it’s everybody’s fault but NEON’s. Defaulted loan payments, – nope, not NEON’s fault. Non-compliance with Federal Head Start guidelines – that’s DDS’s fault. Failure to provide adequate financial statements – oh, that’s the comptroller’s fault. Bouncing employee paychecks – that’s the State’s fault for not giving NEON enough funding. Late W-2’s – it’s the payroll company’s fault. Apparently, nothing was NEON’s responsibility.

  3. longtime resident

    This latest accusation is absolutely ludicrous. Everyone should take a few moments and read through the three documents posted here. Once again, thank you N.O.N., for giving us a complete picture – something that is certainly missing from other local media.

  4. dawn

    i do not believe we are still doing this. Have we ever found out how much money is contributed by the other municipalities.
    any progress on the salary list
    .
    and when does chicky intend to come forward witht he evidence that she uncovered about wrongdoing.

  5. Jubilant Judy

    According to official minutes of the Board Meeting held on November 25th 2013 and posted on the NEON web-site, a motion for dismissal of former interim CEO/President Chiquita Stephenson was denied. It would therefore seem that the organization currently has two unpaid CEO’s (Stephenson and Jackson), a curious situation that perhaps will get resolved at the next Meeting of the Board.
    Tyler Perry could not write a more compelling plot for his TV series ” The Haves and Have Nots”!

  6. Taxpayer Fatigue

    This is all nonsense. With almost $4M in debt, they are headed to bankrupcty court whether they admit it or not.

    1. Mark Chapman

      The story has been updated as of 4:38 p.m. with comments from the Rev. Tommie Jackson regarding Chiquita Stephenson’s dismissal and the reasons for the delayed paychecks last fall.

      Updated again at 6:06 p.m. with comment from the governor’s office.

  7. Casey Smith

    Oh, come on! I read Dr. Jackson comments. The more that they try to point fingers at everyone else for being responsible for their problems, the more I am convinced they need to shut down.

  8. Bill

    Sounds like Chiquita has too much time on her hands. Time to get a real job lady.

  9. still not paid

    So Berkoff is saying by friday we will get 3 weeks of pay on yhis friday. Then next week get another two weeks? They got rid of Chiquita which was the problem and we are still having problems. How are they going to pay a company outside and can’t pay the people inside? And that is the vendors they have as well. Still nothing but lies.

  10. Confused

    Not only do they need to back pay staff,, they have still not paid the Heat Start staff that they let go their vacation pay. They are a bunch of liars. I just received my W-2, postmarked February 8, 2014. Not January 31, 2014.

  11. Amazed

    Just wondering when Berkoff is going to authorize NEON’s payroll department to issue checks on Friday.

  12. WHAT?

    “The letter contains not a single shred of truth,” Doba wrote in a Monday email. First of all, in the political world of official gubernatorial spokespersons, that is a very strong and unequivocal statement made from the office of a Governor whose roots go back to Stamford with Chiquita Stephenson. Second, go ask the 7 board members who all left en masse in October and they will all tell you that they simply refused to be responsible for an organization where the management and staff were not telling the truth to the board. Mike Berkhoff and Jack O’Dea were behind the staff the whole way, so why are they even still there?

  13. LWitherspoon

    “The letter pins the blame for NEON’s loss of programs and services on Bremby and DSS and calls on Malloy to absolve Stephenson and the current board of claims of mismanagement; to begin an investigation into the “interference and sabotage of NEON by local, state and federal elected officials”; an investigation of former Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia and ACF for the removal of Norwalk’s Head Start program from NEON control; an investigation of the Norwalk Housing Authority, Norwalk Community College, Stepping Stones, state Rep. Bruce Morris, state Sen. Bob Duff and U.S. Rep Jim Himes for their “interference and sabotage of NEON and its programs”; and to clear Stephenson’s name and stating that she, “on behalf of NEON, shared all findings as well as worked diligently with DSS to correct deficiencies found that benefited not only NEON but DSS and the state during their audit.”
    .
    Wow, that’s a lot of escape goats.

  14. still not paid

    Let’s get the FED’S in and get this situation handle. This situation has been going on since 2010 and it is time for them to step in and handle it. They put a band aide on it the problem and the problem kept growing. The official’s kept telling us the stories so we can loose the problems that were on hand of what was really going on. Now it is real bad and Norwalk has nothing for no one. No programs, building’s that is there for the communities are closed by 6 or whatever else the community needs.

  15. Amazed

    What happened to the Connecticut State Labor board? NEON employees filed complaints with the labor board and they still remain unpaid with no insurance and little to no chance of getting a vacation payout.

  16. still not paid

    A lot of the people in power know what’s going on and where they at or go. That’s why it looks like they escaped because no one is here to help give directions.

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