Above: A video posted Oct. 1 on the NEON website of CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson discussing the agency.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) released a statement to the media late Monday night blaming the city of Norwalk and an ill-advised merger with Stamford’s CTE anti-poverty agency for its current plight – a social service agency with most programs shut down, unable to meet payroll and under the cloud of a negative past federal audit and an ongoing state audit.
The statement gave no indication when programs, including Head Start, would re-open, when employees would be brought back to work, and whether employees would, indeed, receive their paychecks today (Tuesday). Employees were informed Friday – payday – that they would not see checks until Tuesday.
Sunday night, after NancyOnNorwalk obtained an email sent to employees telling most of them not to show up for work Monday or Tuesday, we sent the agency a list of questions. There was no response. At 10:48 a.m. Monday, we received an email saying “A press release will follow shortly…” That release came at 11:13 p.m. and did not address the immediate questions.
NancyOnNorwalk sent the following questions at 11:24 p.m. to Board of Directors Chairman Michael Berkoff, President and CEO Chiquita Stephenson and press contact Scott Harris:
• Does NEON, indeed, have $283,000, give or take, coming Tuesday through DSS?
• Will everyone be paid Tuesday?
• When will Head Start reopen?
• When will NEON offices reopen?
• Will the current employees be brought back to work, and when, pending a review of what changes will be made?
There was no response to the questions.
The $282,000 influx from DSS was reported Friday night after NEON board member Jack O’Dea said he and Berkoff had spoken that morning with “the governor’s people and the governor.” O’Dea said in a Sunday email he had not talked with the governor, and Monday, Berkoff and Stephenson said that no one had talked with the governor.
The press release late Monday night, sent by Harris under Stephenson’s name and attributing at least some information to Berkoff, said Berkoff and the NEON board “are working hard to resolve a variety of financial and program issues.”
The release then pointed at Norwalk’s refusal to continue giving $1.3 million a year for the past two years to the agency, “leaving NEON with a shortfall of $2,600,000.” NEON, however, “has continued providing services to the Norwalk community because the organization understands the immediate impact that cutting these services would have on the lives of the men, women, and children that we serve.”
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said last week that the city should not be blamed for NEON’s problems.
“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.”
Monday night’s release said Berkoff said NEON “unwisely was placed in the position of taking on a difficult merger with the troubled CTE agency in Stamford,” and that NEON lacked sufficient resources or staff to handle it.
The release said Berkoff will call for a meeting with the leaders of each of the eight cities and towns currently served by NEON, asking them to work with the agency to get it back on solid financial footing, “assess what the board and management need to do to correct and resolve current financial difficulties and to implement the necessary steps to ensure that this situation will not be repeated in the future.”
The regular monthly board meeting is planned for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday as posted on the NEON website.