NEON in crisis: Most staff told to stay home Monday, Tuesday

Amquilia Estefani, right, holds her 2-year-old daughter Friday outside Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now’s (NEON’s) Nathaniel Ely School Friday. The child goes to Head Start, which is not on the list of programs that NEON interim CEO and president Chiquita Stephenson said will be open Monday and Tuesday.

(Updated 1:16 p.m. with brief comments from the interim CEO and board chairman)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) staff was told by email late Sunday night to stay home Monday and Tuesday.

The email said, in part, “Most NEON programs will be closed on Monday, October 7th and Tuesday, October 8th — employees are asked not to report to work on these two (2) days.”

The email was time-stamped 10:40 p.m. and sent by NEON spokesman Scott Harris “on behalf of NEON CEO and president Chiquita Stephenson.”

The program closures apparently include Head Start.

Questions emailed to Stephenson and Board of Directors Chairman Michael Berkoff Sunday night were not answered. Monday, in separate emails, both said a reported Friday meeting or communication  between Gov. Dannel Malloy and Berkoff and board member Jack O’Dea did not happen. In a phone call, Berkoff said a press release would be forthcoming with more information later in the afternoon.

Friday’s email said some programs would remain open: “Department of Correction funded residential halfway house programs in Norwalk and Waterbury, the Transitional Living Program at Parkview South in South Norwalk and Stamford’s Viewpoint substance abuse treatment program.”

“NEON employees will receive further information and direction on the status of program closures within the next 2 days,” the email said.

Friday, after announcing paychecks for staff would be delayed until Tuesday, Stephenson told NancyOnNorwalk that layoffs were likely and hinted at other potential cutbacks.

“Unless someone comes and gives us a grant to take care of the funds that we no longer have from the city, we are going to have to do layoffs,” she said. “But, even if we got funds that came from a grant, we still have to streamline our budget to make sure that we are operating effectively and efficiently as it pertains to the costs allocations and the services that we offer.”

Stephenson was alluding to annual funding from Norwalk that was stopped by Mayor Richard Moccia is the wake of a federal audit that showed grant money was being misused under previous NEON President and CEO Joe Mann. Stephenson said Moccia’s refusal to restore funding despite what she said were improvements in the operation has contributed to the crisis.

“The facts are there,” she said. “NEON never had a budget before, we now have a budget. NEON never had a cash flow before, we now have a cash flow. The city of Norwalk received more financial information than they have ever received, from a financial perspective, of NEON in operation.”

“You call and you ask the same questions,” she said. “Can somebody reconsider? Usually what I am told is ‘there are Common Council individuals that are not in agreement with you’ so they are going to block it at every turn.”

Stephenson said the decision should not be about agreeing with her, but should be based on the people NEON helps.

“I think people, elected individuals, ought not to make things personal, but to focus on the facts on how it affects their constituents, and if you are looking at your constituents who are in need of child care, who are in need of health care, who are in need of food, housing and shelter, are you telling me are you basing your decision on the facts of the financials or on the personal perspective?”

Moccia pointed to the events of last week in defending his decision.

“Board members have resigned en masse,” Moccia said Friday night in an email. “There still appears to be problems with the money’s being misspent. There are ongoing state audits in progress. The fault is not with city.”

Several board members have resigned since NEON’s new board was formed last May after its merger with Stamford’s anti-poverty agency, CTE. The board had as many as 20 members last summer, but is down to 11. Five members resigned last week, and Chairman William Westcott left in September. Those contacted by NancyOnNorwalk cited poor financial records and management’s lack of cooperation in correcting the situation as reasons for leaving the board. State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), who resigned from the board last week, said the board was frequently finding out about crises at the last minute.

Friday night, Stephenson said employees were expressing concern about their jobs.

“Employees wanted to know,’Can you promise us a job?’ She said. “I told them I couldn’t promise them a job with everything that is going on. I know that it is hard, but we are looking at the news on a daily basis and we are seeing corporations making a decision and they’re making decisions from a standpoint of whether they are furloughing or whether they’re laying off individuals.”

(Nancy Guenther Chapman contributed to this story)


12 responses to “NEON in crisis: Most staff told to stay home Monday, Tuesday”

  1. Bill

    Sounds like Neon’s days are over. Sad that corruption has lead to children losing head start education. Someone should be in prison for this corruption.

  2. NEON hangs out tag; Gone Fishing..

    This gets worse and worse on a daily basis.
    Regular reality show embarassing because it is real and it is us.

    Can we get some facts here please?

    Did Malloy authorise and DSS just cut a quarter million check last Thusrday, or not?

    If DSS did ante up than whats with not making payroll? Speaking of payroll, IMHO, many programs that collects funding from various sources are nothng more than scams, yes scams with seat warmers collecting checks.CTE had a more effeciently run structure and programs that actually were effective, lean and mean.

    The same can not be said for some programs run by NEON. How many collecting checks for not even a warming a seat while chatting on social networks but empty seats, upstairs at BF?

    The big yellow flag was rasied when Mann evicted CCA’s food pantry, than run by Christy Pope. CCA has since also merged with Person to Person in Darien and is now run by that organization and even though its early to evaluate that merger, things do seem to be running much more smoothly than down the block from the the slow motion implosion happening at NEON/CTE.

    There are benefits to mergers of some services. Red Cross is a great example of complete failure in its ongoing restructuring attempts of merging and regionalizing services. Access, to more resources and or resources unavailable or limited from one organization, another may have available and/or idle looks great on paper.

    In actual implementation it gets sticky. There are significant managment and accounting challenges and turf issues and things dont always run smoothly. Red Cross being the poster organization of how not to reginalize and consolidate services. But the RC has a huge budget and can afford to squander resources and talent helter skelter experimenting. Local small organiation’s merging like NEON and CTE do not have those kinds of resources and tools in their tool box.

    There are significant benefits by merging resources and maximizing, at least utilizing the combined staff’s talent’s and abilities but NEON/CTE incomes do not allow for such expensive trial ad error managment and can ill afford the huge learning curve into uncharted territory that is even bumpier with deeper pot holes than Norwalk’s streets.

    One of the issues in this merger is the size of the board. It needs to be diverse and represent the folks that are the organization mission to serve and it also needs professional expertise but it doesnt need or should be a social gathering. After all serious business must be done.

    With appointed as well as elected boards, the process is flawed but we all know that and we must tweak the process to make it better, to maintain diversity and reflect the needs of the community and the organization itelf. it shouldnt be a stepping stone for professional or wanna be politicians seeking exposure. It’s about who you know, not what you have to offer. We need to flip that.

    Another issue, obviously, is the need for freah minds with vision and energy.
    Not just on the board. There are passionate staff that have been and are trying to make it work to the best of their human capacity but sometimes the mud hole gets to be too much, for shovels and comes a time to call in a tractor. No one has superhuman strength.

    Far as accountablity, the timing of Mann’s merger and the conditions from that agreement did not save CTE and has jeapordized NEON’s exsistence itself.
    It was and is a good idea but the grand merger’s motivation were out of desperation for survival on both organizations part’s, not to reap bountiful harvets by merging resources and therin lies the quick sand pit the organisaztions now find themselves trapped in,

    Accontability? Well with all that in mind and the what 300,000 Mann spent on $1,000 suits and $800 shoes, $1,500 briefcases, the sat radio, the dinners, gas, the free apartment for the s ex. etc etc etc..

    Yeah, little over the top, NEON is not Red Cross and that kind of expense account, especially in this incompetenly managed, possible criminally liable, irresponsible complete failure of fiduciary duties and trust, not to mention the in your face arogance, should have raised a red flag for authorities long ago.

    Should have open some folks ayes when Mann forcibly kicked out CCA’s food pantry, that was and is an important resouce for survival for far too many that fall through our so called Grand Canyon wide tatered saftey net. CCa had been there for some time serving the community and didnt desrevre the treatment they were forced to endure.

    “But hey, this suit looks so good on me, did you see my italian shoes? Wanna see what a $1,500 briefcase holds inside”?

    All the noise and confusion while the mission falls to the wayside.

    What do the Swiss get, that we don’t?


  3. hersheyteach101

    Yes and his name is Joe Mann!

  4. KarenJ

    Yes Hersheyteach101 he’s name is Joe Mann and who was siting next to him for about 5 to 6 years Chiquita Stephenson and other management members that’s still there like his sister Marry Mann .
    Let me remind you some of the things that are similar , when Joe was there he had his ex wife at the boutique now is Chiquita’s mother , Joe have his sister working at BF third fl now Chiquita’s sister working at BF Head Star program without the position been posted and not to mention all the family members that started workin there after Joe left and not only Chiquita’s other management too . So let’s be honest here I been living on this community for years all my kids when to the Head Start program I know a lot of the staff that works there and I know what are they going through righ now . Can you imaging all the families that woke up today and when to the programs to bring their kids because they have to go to work and find the doors close what are they going to do a the last minute their going to lose a day of work and probably not get pay . I hope that some one step in and take away the Head Start program awa from NEON .

  5. Oldtimer

    A lot of people rely on Neon services. When an outside audit showed a bunch of money, about $400,000, had been spent without proper authorization, receipts missing or money charged to wrong accounts, it was obvious they had at least a book-keeping problem combined with some people misusing money for personal expenses.
    With the authority to appoint a third of the board and the influence that goes with 1.3 million dollar annual grants, the mayor should have taken charge and appointed somebody to straighten out their book-keeping, as a condition of the annual grant from the city. Instead, he cut off the grant until “Joe Mann was out” and then did not re-instate when Mann was forced out, nor for the following year. Pretty much taking a position on the future of Neon and bragging about the grant money he saved.
    Now we must deal with the results of the mayor’s care for the people who rely on neon, possibly long term. Should Neon be saved ? Should the next mayor re-instate the grant money from the City ? It now looks like we are running out of time to decide to help, as the City did for many years, or not, like Moccia didn’t.

  6. Staff Member



    and with that being said…. when can i get my paycheck before the labor department gets involved, surprised no one has called them yet.

  8. dawn

    you are the employee. you should have called them a long time ago.

  9. ScopeonNorwalk

    Yes, call the labor department…

  10. ScopeonNorwalk

    I think employees need to call Head Start and the Labor Department…Head Start contracts that ended October 1st were supposed to be affected by the government shut down but Neon’s Head Start grant was extended through December 2013…knowing what these folks at Neon are capable of, someone needs to check to see if money is coming into Neon while management is claiming that it is not. They could be not paying employees, not providing the services and collecting the money. I want to hear from the Boston Head Start office why Neon had to close their Head Start programs.

  11. Mike Rotch

    NEON only helps those on the management team. Free apartments, free cars, free gas, free lunches, spending money AND a paycheck. Not much left over for those who need the help. How about locking the doors for good and starting new.

  12. loveforthecity

    Shut this place down!

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