New interim NEON CEO lays out his priorities, qualifications

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The Rev. Tommie Jackson of Stamford’s Faith Tabernacle Baptist answers questions Thursday night in Stamford after being named interim CEO of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON).

(Clarification 10:53 a.m.: Jackson is interim CEO)

STAMFORD, Conn. — The Rev. Tommie Jackson faced a gaggle of reporters as his first action as the new interim Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) CEO Thursday night, minutes after being voted in by the NEON board of directors following a three-hour executive session.

Jackson was queried by four reporters on a variety of topics regarding the troubled agency, which appears to some observers to be on the verge of collapse, including his qualifications for the job and funding from the city of Norwalk.

Here is the question-and-answer session:

Gaggle: What is your first priority?

Jackson: The first thing is to go back to the funders who have outstanding contracts with NEON at this time as well as those who owe NEON money for services provided and secure that funding for NEON as quickly as possible so that that money can be used to pay the staff and to continue existing services.

Gaggle: What funds were you talking about?

Jackson: They are funds that are due to NEON from the state Department of Corrections and the state Department of Social Services as well as the money that is due to NEON from Head Start, which is a federal program. There are some forms and materials that need to be submitted, specifically for the Head Start program. The SF 270 process needs to be completed and that should be done by mid-day Tuesday. Then we’ll see what happens from that point.

Gaggle: Do you have any plans to get in contact with former interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious and do some fact finding as you’re looking back as to what happened when?

Jackson: I think we leave no stone unturned and that’s not only in regard to Patricia Wilson Pheanious but those persons who brought the organizations together for merger in 2011 as well. So the history is important as well as where do we go from this time.

Gaggle: What can you tell us about yourself?

Jackson: I have had extensive experience in working with block grants and assisting troubled agencies, federal and state monies and currently serve as the director of the (Stamford) Urban Redevelopment Commission.

Gaggle: You said you had experience with troubled agencies. Can you name a few?

Jackson: The Chester Redevelopment Agency in the city of Chester, Pa., had about $12 to $16 million impounded by the federal government. I was brought in as executive director to get those monies released to the city of Chester. We had that with great success and it was block grant monies that provided services and programs very much akin to what is offered through the community action programs here in the city of Stamford.

Gaggle: Why do you want to take this on?

Jackson: Let me make it plain. This is temporary. This is not permanent. This is temporary and my assignment is to get the monies to benefit the residents who are served by NEON and to hopefully provide good paychecks that are going to those employees who are impacted.

Gaggle: Those paychecks have been bounced?

Jackson: That’s what I know. Some paychecks have bounced.

Gaggle: When you say you are temporary, temporary in what sense?

Jackson: My assignment is to assess the operations of the agency, look at the programs they are offering, look at how those programs are funded, look at what can be done to streamline the operation, look at what can be done to continue to offer valuable services for some of our most vulnerable people in these cities, the eight communities that are served by NEON and how those things can continue in a very productive and effective way.

Gaggle: Do you have any plans to also make recommendations for management changes?

Jackson: That’s really premature at this point in time because I am not sure how the organization is structured. Whether it is top heavy, whether there are too many people in certain positions or categories. I can tell you this, that when Patricia came on the organization had three CFOs, two CEOs, which was Mr. Cain and Mr. Mann, then Pat. That was until the merger was effective in March 2012.

Gaggle: How long have you been involved in this situation?

Jackson: My first meeting in this process was in February 2013 with Mrs. Stephenson and Patricia Wilson Pheanious, with Mayor Pavia.

Gaggle: Is there anything else here that you think is outstanding that we haven’t addressed, that is first and foremost on your mind?

Jackson: The city of Norwalk had an agreement with NEON that they would provide $1.3 million for the past two fiscals years, which totals $2.6 million. If that $2.6 million was received in addition to monies from DOC and DSS, it certainly would have been to the benefit of NEON. It would have been able to provide services that are needed in a productive way for the immediate future.

Gaggle: Are you hopeful that the city of Norwalk would follow through on any money to NEON?

Jackson: Yes, I am very hopeful. Those monies are not in the current fiscal year budget but that does not mean that there might not be some discretionary way to put that $1.3 million in there, or even if it’s not $1.3 million a portion of it for NEON to go forward with its operations.

Gaggle: Have you had a conversation with Mayor-Elect Rilling?

Jackson: I have not met with Mayor-Elect Rilling or (Stamford) Mayor-Elect Martin. For me, that was premature because I just got appointed tonight. The only thing I do know is that Mayor-Elect Martin has not been available. I hope to speak with Mayor-Elect Rilling in the next week.


16 responses to “New interim NEON CEO lays out his priorities, qualifications”

  1. Norwalk Lifer

    This is good, he is being transparent, now certainly there will be some who will criticize how he is going about this, but first and foremost, he states he will balance the checkbook, and go after money in arrears for services rendered. That’s sane, and it’s logical.

    He also cites what meetings he has already had, and in addition, he has sent a message to NEON staff that he will observe and learn the reporting structure. To me this is code for I will investigate what everyone is doing who is in line management and also at the executive management level.

    He sent a bow shot about the top heavy structure of NEON; the only thing that is curious is his meetings with the former CEO in winter of last year.

    What is additionally interesting and should be noted by all is that he met with the Mayor of Stamford during this meeting with the CEO. Why didn’t Moccia also attend? Because at that moment NEON probably was the third rail for any mayor in Norwalk, but it’s really up to a leader to decide what’s the best use of their time. It’s curious that Pavia, maybe safe as he is not affliated with Norwalk, met with the CEO and Mr. Jackson. Of course, this is state and federal business to be sure.


    But, from what I have read here, I am cautiously optimistic for NEON’s future and I will support the management team.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Don’t Panic

    Yeah. It is a step in the right direction as he at least has the ability to understand the paperwork required. However, there were a lot of smart and equally dedicated people on that board who were not able to right the books because those books just weren’t available.
    I don’t think he should be floating the idea that Norwalk’s funding would be part of the turnaround effort. The notion that we can just find that money that hasn’t been budgeted is irresponsible.

  3. “Are you hopeful that the city of Norwalk would follow through on any money to NEON?
    Jackson: Yes, I am very hopeful.”
    BINGO! There you have it folks, Rilling will be giving the money to this group of thieves…

  4. M Allen

    The $1.3 million from the city is AN answer, but it isn’t THE answer. The answer here is a complete structural and managerial reorganization. Once all parties are satisfied that has occurred, the monies will undoubtedly flow from all government entities. But a bailout can’t happen before the reorg. I’m sure that would be no different for the City than for the State of Federal government. They will want to see verifiable change and answers before new funds are released. This isn’t going to happen overnight.
    I wish Rev. Jackson the best, but this is going to be a process.

  5. RU4REAL

    What is wrong with you Irish girl, you just make stuff up. The election is over, cut the crap.

  6. Oldtimer

    First priority should be the payroll checks the banks wouldn’t cash. Were they written against non-existent funds ? Were they written against existing funds in a new bank account and is the bank responsible for refusing to honor good checks ? If they were written knowing they were no good, somebody needs to go to jail. Moving to a different bank now seems strange and may be part of the problem.

  7. What is wrong with you, RU4Real, do you not see the writing on the wall?
    It is a matter of (short) time, that Mayor Rilling will subsidize this agency without any restructure.
    I just wish you would address “cutting the crap” to NEON – where that comment is truly directed.

  8. Oldtimer

    Don’t underestimate Mayor-elect Rilling, he may be very interested in getting NEON back on track, but he will not part with a dime until he is satisfied the cash management and accounting problems are fixed, and the thieves, are held accountable, if thieves are identified.
    It sounds like the top people at NEON were counting on the 2.6 million held back by Moccia over the last two years to be replaced before they got this deep in trouble, as if it was budgeted and was being held for them.

  9. EastNorwalkChick

    Apparently “irishgirl” has some sort of diving method that knows exactly what is going to happen in the future….maybe you should play the lotto.

  10. Ark

    Council will not be quick to fund this organization again even if Mayor Rilling wants too. I expect as new Mayor he will proceed carefully and judiciously. Does not make sense to start out a new term with a NEON disaster

  11. Dawn

    Once again I ask he question. How mu h money does Stamfors contribute that We keep going to Stamford. Someone places tell me.
    I also want to know why Norwalk should give a dime to NEON until they have prove. That they can be trusted not to “MISAPPROPRIATE” funds again.
    I hear nothing about asking for criminal investigations. The woman in the clerks office is looking at fines and jail time for stealing public money. She “only” took 3 grand. At neon we are looking at hindreds of thousands of public dollars. Haven’t those who have stolen from neon just as criminal.
    How does one demand the attorney general open an investigation. I would like to request such and investigation. Yes little lowly me with no power at all. I want an investigation.
    And new may rolling I hope you jhave some cojones to say no. Not until they hire an independent accounting firm.
    Oh yeah. They can’t because someone ran off with the checkbook. Maybe a board member with a lot of money would make a contribution for that cause. That is how to save he agency. Not by still refusing to admit the peeson you put all you marbles behind is a crook.

  12. Casey Smith

    I’m just curious…when Federal funds are mis-appropriated, isn’t is SOP to have the organization repay that money? I seem to remember something like that happening in Bridgeport with CDBG funding. I think it’s an important consideration because if NEON has to pay back all that funding, it will impact the programs and the donations.

  13. LWitherspoon

    The State appointed Pat Wilson Pheanious as NEON’s turnaround specialist, and the NEON Board appears to have turned over once or twice. At the end of the Ms. Pheanious’s term, Board Members expressed dissatisfaction with the agency’s financial reporting, and her response was something along the lines of “if you think this is bad, you should have seen how bad it was when I got here.” Yet the organization is still allocating grant money to the wrong programs, and nobody on the Board can explain why paychecks are bouncing. What is going on?

  14. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    You still have a lot of work to do. Staff should file papers at the police department for receiving bad check against whom ever signed them. And the rest of the top management should be gone since they also did wrong, including the comptroller Ms. D. Yates, Mary Mann, Larry Langhorn, also include the secretary staffing and administrative assists. We have to look at all monies that was misused, did they misused the energy fund also is that why it took so long for my utility check to get to CL&P, something to think about now, did they supervisor of energy know any thing and didn’t report it?

  15. Don’t Panic

    NEON isn’t handling the funds for the energy assistance program anymore. They are doing the paperwork and the client contact but the are not cutting the checks.

  16. @EastNorwalkChick,
    “Apparently “irishgirl” has some sort of diving method that knows exactly what is going to happen in the future….maybe you should play the lotto.”
    What makes you think I NEED or even like to play the Lotto? I’ve never heard of “diving method” so please explain, if you can.

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