By Warren Peña
NORWALK, Conn. – [This is an open letter from Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large) to Norwalk officials and legislators, as well as Gov. Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen, regarding the situation at the South Norwalk Community Center, which shares a building with NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now). Peña is the SNCC board chairman.]
I want to share the latest.
NEON has cut off our phone lines, taken our phones (which apparently they paid for) and cut our Internet.
Thankfully, SNCC has a little money in the bank where we were able to get new phones, phone lines and Internet/ cable back up and running (stay tuned for the press release).
SNCC has two functions. It was until yesterday, the subcontractor of the HHD (Human Hispanic Development) grant from DSS (Department of Social Services).
About $79,000 came in, mostly for salaries and employees to provide the services under this contract (translations, interpretations, referrals, immigration help etc .) I believe NEON has misappropriated these funds over the years to fund other positions outside of the SNCC staff, because we never saw any of the money only paychecks for an executive director and part time youth coordinator this past program year. Yet the grant stipulates other line items, including more employees SNCC never received. NEON’s position is that those employees under the contract are for their operation; I beg to differ. SNCC is no longer subcontractor and NEON has fired SNCC’s executive director and taken her salary off the contract.
They have relocated our youth coordinator to their purchasing deptartment. Effectively, leaving the center with no paid EEs. Make no mistake, this is all because I have gotten there and have been according to (NEON President) Pat Wilson, “a problem.” I believe you all know I have the right intentions. As I began to learn about the finances and the building situation, NEON has done everything possible to block and damage the SNCC including making false statements that we did not show them our accounting for the HHD grant, which is false because they manage the money. They do not even give us access to the accounting.
At the present time what I have at the SNCC is a 10 member board and four volunteers including the executive director, who is eligible for social security benefits next month and still willing to volunteer full time until we turn things around. We currently have no programs as all the Latino programs that were offered remain with NEON.
I am working with state Sen. Andres Ayala and state Rep. Juan Candelaria to make sure that next year the HHD contract comes directly to the SNCC. This exact situation with NEON/ SNCC happened in Danbury with their two anti-poverty agencies. There are only two Latino agencies left in the state not receiving these funds directly. Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury has pledged and found money in his budget to make sure that the Hispanic Center of Danbury kept its doors open to provide the services to the community. Please see this link. I hope Norwalk can do the same.
Our second function is to rent out the multipurpose room (MPR). This generated $10,000 of net income in 2012. (NEON wants 70 percent of all rental income moving forward). If they had it their way, we would have $3,000 of income from the MPR in 2013 with no programs, and a building we share as co-tenants with NEON.
We met with our attorneys yesterday and I made it clear that under the current circumstances, the SNCC cannot trust or do business with NEON. That SNCC does not want any relationship with NEON outside of the management of the shared space. We are working on a Building Operating Agreement.
The city of Norwalk has approximately $270,000 in this year’s budget that goes to NEON for operating expenses at Ben Franklin and Nathaniel Ely.
NEON is a wealthy anti-poverty agency and in my opinion, it is time we redirect taxpayer dollars to other agencies that are in need. Isn’t that the intention of allocating taxpayer dollars for those in need? NEON is not in need with a $15 million budget. Meanwhile, they are doing everything possible to dissolve the SNCC due what I see as a power grab and pure greed. I don’t believe there is any integrity left with the current leadership at NEON. They should step down as they are not about the community, they are about themselves and their six figure salaries.
I am going to make a formal request to the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office to perform an audit of the HHD contract for the past 10 years.
Unfortunately, I do not think that I can speak to DSS as I feel that all my conversations are reported back to NEON leadership due to the fact that their interim CEO was the former commissioner.
See another related article – http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Officials-say-anti-poverty-agency-needs-overhaul-4184207.php.
Latino leaders from all over the state know what’s going on here in Norwalk with SNCC. They stand ready to fight along side of me for what we all see as an injustice.
As for SNCC’s plans, you will see a series of events starting April 11th taking place at the center. We are celebrating 50 years in serving the community this year, so there will be a huge event for that. Fundraising is obviously the main priority along with improving the facilities of the SNCC to begin it’s new chapter in History.
Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large), SNCC board chairman
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