NORWALK, Conn. – As Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) swirled around the bowl en route to oblivion, the ironically named agency’s leaders repeated two things over and over: All employees would be “made whole” (the Rev. Tommie Jackson, “transitional” president and CEO) and “We will issue a statement when we know what’s happening” (Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff).
There was no statement, just carefully released information to one media outlet. And the employees were not made whole.
“NEON has issued vacation checks to former employees who has accrued time. They are only paying 45 percent of time accrued,” according to a former employee who contact NancyOnNorwalk late Monday.
It gets worse, but hardly surprising:
“Employees picked up checks today but was told not to cash until tomorrow. Employees have to go to Bank of America only and checks have to be cashed and not deposited. People who have not picked checks by Tuesday will risk forfeiture of their checks.”
Classy to the end.
At a non-NEON mid-week event early in the month, Berkoff loudly and repeatedly proclaimed, according to people who were there, that NEON would be declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy the following Monday. It didn’t happen. A week later, employees at 98 South Main Street were told that Friday was the last day.
In late March, NEON sent out press releases encouraging people to sign up their children for summer camp that Jackson and Berkoff should have known had no chance of happening. Sign-ups required a $200 deposit. Another release sought youths for summer employment. NoN ran a story announcing both on March 30.
On April 10, NoN ran a story about an email sent by a NEON manager to employees that stated, “As we approach our last days here at the agency…”
On April 15, NoN ran a story quoting Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, who was in regular contact with Jackson, that “in my conversation with Rev. Jackson this morning, it was clear that something will be happening within the next couple of weeks, or by the first part of May.”
And NEON continued to take camp deposits.
When remaining employees were recently told May 9 would be the last day, it was revealed by people still at 98 South Main St. that people stopping in to inquire about the camp – or about refunds (which, we are told, would be given) – were told the camp would not be happening, and that the city of Norwalk was being blamed for not giving NEON the $92,000 it has requested to run the program.
As far back as Jan. 19, Rilling had publicly stated that the money listed in the proposed city documents as being earmarked for NEON’s summer camp was a “placeholder” to ensure the funds remained available for some organization to run a summer youth program. From our story:
“…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.
Still, Jackson tried to lay the blame on the city – just as his predecessors Pat Wilson Pheanious and Chiquita Stephenson, along with Berkoff, did, claiming it was former Mayor Richard Moccia’s fault because he held up Norwalk taxpayer money to NEON after audit revealed massive financial irregularities in the agency.
So now, as NEON circles the drain, dragging out its death scene like a lousy actor in a bad movie, reports are that the bankruptcy filing could come Thursday.
We will believe it when we see it.
NEON is an agency that is way late for its own funeral.