(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.