NORWALK, Conn. – The tension between the Connecticut Department of Social Services and South Norwalk’s anti-poverty agency has cooled, board members indicated at their last meeting.
Westport state Rep. Jonathon Steinberg, a board member, said DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby will meet with Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) board members to discuss the nationwide search for a new director for the agency, a meeting Steinberg said he thinks will be cordial.
In other developments revealed in the board meeting, Chairman William Westcott said the South Norwalk Community Center is promising to begin paying its fair share of the utility expenses for the building it shares with NEON at 98 South Main St. DSS has granted a three-month extension to the children’s nutrition program, which may be a precursor to putting the program out to bid.
Board members also had a two-hour meeting with representatives of Head Start before their board meeting. They declined to provide any details, but interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson said, in the course of other discussion, they had learned that NEON needs to take regular and detailed reports about Head Start from the policy committee. That hadn’t been happening, she said, while promising to get working on it.
Steinberg is leading a committee formed to negotiate and communicate with Bremby. He said that was in response to a stern, “demanding” letter from Bremby dated Aug. 14 outlining terms for the search for a new CEO and president.
The committee reached a consensus that “the board of the organization had every right to assert its own responsibility and authority to the search process,” he said. “We composed a letter dated Aug. 27 to the commissioner which made it very clear that we had a choice among potential search firms. We would basically listen to them but we would be the primary movers in engaging in the search, that DSS would not have a seat at the table, but that we would keep them informed — because they are going to underwrite this, it is the least we can do. We are very much committed to a transparent process.”
The committee had offered to meet with Bremby, he said. Within a few days, it had an invitation to do that.
“I wasn’t sure if during that meeting there would be contentious elements to their response, so I kind of asked the commissioner’s secretary if this was going to be a pleasant meeting or contentious meeting,” he said. “I actually got a call back from the commissioner. … I was led to believe that they were willing to likely accommodate every change to the conditions which we had proposed.”
Board members had not yet met with the commissioner.
Westcott said there is a proposed building operating agreement in the works between SNCC and NEON, which he expects will put the issues between them to rest.
He mentioned, with skepticism, the “pretty significant, rather ambitious” plans stemming from a $100,000 Community Block Developments Grant awarded by the Common Council to SNCC.
“If they can do it, more power to them, I don’t know,” he said. “But they seem to have indicated that they think they can start doing the carrying costs of the building pretty much square away. I am doubtful of that, but it would be great if they could because, if they could start carrying the building 50-50, it would start relieving us.”
If the center begins paying the utilities, it will have full legal right to the first floor of the building, he said.
“It’s an ambitious plan,” he said. “I wish them well, but I’ll let you know.”
A NEON worker said in reference to the children’s nutrition program that DSS awards three six- or nine-month extensions. It does that when it is trying to determine if the contract will go out to bid, she said. She had tried to get a feel from DSS which way it was leaning but as unsuccessful, she said, so she was checking the DSS website every day to look for a posting.
She also said that NEON has been allotted more than $6 million for its 2014 energy assistance program.