Once Around the City: A hole-y debate, NEON’s cone of silence

NORWALK, Conn. – As a teenager, I despised math class. I knew I was going into music and/or theater for a career, so what use could math possibly have? As a young math student, I could not understand algebra because, after years of hearing you can’t add apples and oranges, Mr. Manning was trying to tell me to add “a” plus “b” and multiply times “x” to find “y.” Sorry, can’t do that.

That personal adherence to the no-mixing rule brings me to the Oak Hills Golf Course argument about the number of holes the course should have, and using percentages to prove a point.

Indeed, 9-hole rounds have skyrocketed in the past year, 49.9 percent. And 18-hole adult resident rounds have fallen by 8.7 percent.

Case closed. Cut the course in half — 9-holes courses are IT.

Not so fast. Percentages are nice, but, like in baseball, sometimes they lie. If someone bats .390 for the season based on 100 at-bats, did he have a better year than the guy who hit .330 over the course of 600 at bats?

And so it is that the growth percentage in 9-hole rounds at Oak Hills is based on 3,892 rounds as opposed to 10,459 resident adult 18-hole rounds. Now add the rest of the 18-hole round totals (senior resident, junior/golf team, employee and non-resident), you get a total of 29,924 18-hole rounds vs. 3,892 9-hole rounds.

So how many of those 18-holers would simply choose to play the 9-hole layout twice? The old sports writer in me says not enough to keep the course open. And no, I am not a golfer. Anyone who saw me try in my younger days could attest to that. I was so proud when I finally broke 100. Unfortunately, it was on a par 3 course…

The trend is obviously toward people playing shorter rounds, much like the trend in newspapers is toward people reading their news online. Still, newspapers continue to print hard copies because, despite the trend, it is still in their financial best interest to print newspapers. And it is still in Oak Hills’ best interest to have an 18-hole course, unless the city decides to have no course, or a subsidized 9-hole course.

Non-responsive NEON

A number of readers have asked us what’s up with Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON). We are wondering the same thing, as NEON has gone radio silent. Repeated email and phone attempts to get information from Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff and Public Information Officer Scott Harris have gone unanswered. We have tried to verify information about who still hasn’t been paid, what programs are still operating, and how many people are still employed.

So here is what we have heard from employees, former employees and other sources close to the scene:

• At least some teachers employed by NEON have been paid through Dec. 27, leaving them a week behind on the pay schedule.

• Employees had to pay out of pocket to keep their insurance in place.

• The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program was pulled.

• About 50 people remain employed in client services, energy assistance, school readiness and administration. NEON has been informed its school readiness contract will end at the end of the month.

NEON may not be playing with city tax dollars at this point, but it is working with state and federal money, and that is of concern to taxpayers everywhere. NEON is also a 501c3 charity, giving it tax-exempt status on the money it takes in. All of this means NEON remains accountable to the public.

It is also important to note that there is a $114,000-plus Community Development Block Grant in Norwalk’s budget for NEON to run a summer camp program for Norwalk inner-city kids. The grant dates back to the previous administration, and went through the proper finance and council channels, Mayor Harry Rilling said Saturday. But that does not mean that NEON will get the money.

“I think that was approved prior to all the current trouble,” he said, referring to missed payrolls, canceled contracts, a fired CEO and bankruptcy talks. He said the money remains in the budget as a placeholder while the city waits to see how the situation plays out.

Rilling said the money will not be allocated to anyone until there are “total assurances that there will be acceptable accounting procedures in place and we know how the money will be spent – on tuition, staff, whatever. We may be able to do it as a draw-down system,” in which the city holds the money and pays out as the bills come in.

Rilling said that, at the time, NEON’s plan was the only one put forward for the summer camp, a program he said is crucial for inner-city children who are out of school while their parent or parents are working.

“The kids need structured activities,” he said, instead of being allowed to “hang out” with nothing to do.

“The (Board of Estimate and Taxation) or the Common Council could redirect the grant to another group,” he said, citing the Housing Authority and the Police Activities League as examples.

“Everything is up in the air right now,” he said.

Norwalk Fire Department boosts NCC course

You always wanted to be a firefighter when you grew up. Watching the firefighters’ response to the 9/11 attacks only reinforced the dream. Now it is time to take action.

The Norwalk Fire Department recommends the six-session Norwalk Community College Fire Examination Test Preparation class for high school graduates interested in a career in the fire service. The course begins Feb. 20 and runs six weeks. All registration and course inquiries should be directed to NCC Extended Studies at 203-857-7080.

In 2013, the Norwalk Fire Department developed a test preparation curriculum to assist test applicants gain experience in the examination process. The program provided the opportunity to brush up on material likely to be on standard entry examinations. NCC and William Peltz, one of the department’s test prep trainers, will offer this program through the college.

Norwalk Fire Department anticipates that the recruitment for the next Norwalk Fire Department entry level test to begin in 2015, so this program is a good opportunity for candidates to begin their preparation for that highly competitive process.

Speaker to mark Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month

Serving All Vessels Equally (S.A.V.E.) will host Kemba Smith in her only Connecticut appearance on a national speaking tour for National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month.

Smith will be at Norwalk’s Canaan Institutional Baptist Church, 31 Concord St., at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31.

Her visit to Norwalk is also intended to bring awareness to the community about a new initiative known as the Youth Violence Prevention Partnership: From Non Violence to No Violence.

The National Alliance of Faith and Justice (NAFJ) and the Kemba Smith Foundation (KSF) have announced that Fairfield County is among four pilot locations for the national release of “What’s L-O-V-E Got To Do With It?,” a 12-module sub-component of NAFJ’s Pen Or Pencil (POP) National Mentoring Initiative.

NAFJ has partnered with KSF to translate the 1994 highly publicized story of Kemba Smith, which continues to be told in national media, in her book titled, “Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story,” and recently highlighted in the graphic novel, “Race To Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling” by Marc Mauer. In addition to Fairfield County, the release of the curriculum will pilot in school- and community-based violence prevention and diversion program efforts led by NAFJ affiliates in Seattle, Wash. (4C Coalition); Metropolitan Washington, D.C. (Kiamsha Youth Empowerment Organization); and Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (NW Florida Pen Or Pencil), in February.

After enduring a turbulent four-year relationship with a drug dealer, Kemba, an only child and then a Hampton University student, was sentenced to 24.5 years and served 6.5 years in federal prison. She regained her freedom after President Bill Clinton granted her clemency in December 2000.The extremity of her sentence drew attention and support from across the nation and the world to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time non-violent drug offenders.


10 responses to “Once Around the City: A hole-y debate, NEON’s cone of silence”

  1. TG

    I’m going to post here as it’s a recent story and so everyone will see it and hopefully someone will catch me up. Okay, so I rarely even read the Oak Hills stories here. I know next to nothing about the whole situation. The reason for this is because as one who grew up in East Norwalk, I think I speak for a lot of us on that side of town when I say I’ve ONLY thought of Oak Hills as a golf course. I had no idea- other than my former students using it to sled, or attending a couple events at the restaurant- that it could even be used as anything but a golf course. The whole debate seems to be very much a West Norwalk debate in many ways regarding the effects of Oak Hills decisions on residential character, water issues, etc. But I’ve also been woefully in the dark about Oak Hills relationship with the city in general- how does the operation affect taxpayers, who has use of the park, what are the limitations of that use, etc. I have lived on this side of town for seven years now, but still have little understanding of the whole thing. I still think of it as a golf course, and as a non-golfer, I don’t go there. But if I were, is it cheaper for me as a resident? Do we have numbers on how many residents take advantage of Oak Hills golf course? Sorry, it’s such great space and so close to me- I’d like to understand this whole thing more.

  2. “Rilling said the money will not be allocated to anyone until there are “total assurances that there will be acceptable accounting procedures in place and we know how the money will be spent – on tuition, staff, whatever. We may be able to do it as a draw-down system,” in which the city holds the money and pays out as the bills come in.”
    NEON should not get any money until they have PROVEN themselves to be a capable and responsible entity; a period of five years should be a minimum. We should not have to hold their hands like a child and only give them their allowance when they have done their chores.
    Is this going to be a new full time position in city hall where someone has to oversee NEON? Great, create another useless position in government to payout of our tax money.
    And just because NEON SAYS they will pay the bills (as they come in) doesn’t mean they WILL. NEON HAS PROVEN TIME AND TIME AGAIN that they LIE to the faces that support them. Why should anyone believe them?? As a taxpayer, I don’t.
    To think the mayor is place holding taxpayers money for the agency and the people who go there is ludicrous. Didn’t the mayor have ANY updates on NEON or has NEON gone “radio silent” to the one person who is gullible enough to continue to support them? If NEON can’t EVEN keep the mayor in the loop, then they obviously don’t need our money (or the mayor knows and is keeping “radio silent”…yeah, that’s transparent, Rilling…)

  3. the donut hole

    If you knew anything about golf, you’d know it’s an 18 hole game.
    And for all those who keep saying it should be open for all Norwalk residents for all types of uses….I agree. Pay your $70 annual membership and come talk to the geese and trees all day for all I care. You might want to wear a hard hat and eye protection though.

  4. Beth Altman

    Not that long ago Norwalk had a golf course that was actually run by a group called the Oak Hills Park Authority. However today it is safe to say politics and golf courses don’t mix.

  5. Casey Smith

    “Rilling said that, at the time, NEON’s plan was the only one put forward for the summer camp, a program he said is crucial for inner-city children who are out of school while their parent or parents are working.”
    Speaking of Day camps….

  6. Piberman

    Maybe Mayor Rilling should attend a NEON Board meeting to demand progress.

  7. questions

    When are the board meetings?

    1. Mark Chapman


      We wish we knew. They won’t get back to us and there is nothing up to date on the website.

  8. Dawn

    Post the meeting when you know please

  9. questions

    That’s crazy, but it’s getting better. He is Godsent has the board stated when he started. They lost 4 programs, what’s left?

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