NORWALK, Conn. – (This is an open letter to NEON, Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, sent in February. There has been no reply.)
By Warren Peña
I write this in frustration with your current leadership. I became chairman of the South Norwalk Community Center (SNCC) Board of Directors in October. Your interim CEO requested all documents that the SNCC has in its’ possession as it relates to our relationship and the building. Four members from NEON had a meeting with four members of the SNCC board in September. At that meeting, the SNCC walked away feeling intimidated, threatened and bullied. That is what prompted me to immediately retain an attorney and to undertake my own research. In good faith, I asked our executive director (who has been working at the SNCC for 28 years) to pool together all her files, so that NEON and SNCC could share information.
Moreover, I went to many city departments to obtain relevant documentation regarding the SNCC and NEON relative to 98 South Main St. I gave your interim CEO a packet of all such documents within a couple of weeks of her request. At that time, I asked if we could set up a meeting to review the documents we provided, with both executive directors, chairmen of each board and an attorney from each side. The intent was to review the documents and begin a dialogue. The documents are telling and favor the SNCC as the primary entity in our building (98 South Main St.) with major discretion and oversight; however the operation is currently managed and seemingly controlled by NEON without consultation or collaboration with the SNCC, which should not be the case. Furthermore, when the SNCC has requested documents in NEON’s possession pertaining to the SNCC,we have been told we cannot have that information, and that we should consult with your attorney. By agreement, NEON has served as SNCC’s fiduciary and administrator so that both entities could save on costs and have one centralized administration. I have personally reached out to NEON week after week since October. It is now February and I/we have not been granted a meeting. We believe NEON is in breach of its fiduciary responsibility to SNCC.
The SNCC has very little access; NEON has sought to take over SNCC’s space on the first floor and has approved construction on our first floor without SNCC’s prior consent. NEON has changed signage in the front of and inside the building, without SNCC’s prior consent. This building was built for the benefit of the SNCC in collaboration with NEON, with the express intention that NEON be a tenant of the SNCC.
Thereafter, SNCC granted 50 percent ownership of 98 South Main Street to NEON to give both entities a equal stake in the building, rendering each co-equal, co-owners “Tenants in Common” of the premises. We believe NEON has sought to take advantage of our relationship over the years, and has abused authority ceded to it by SNCC.
The SNCC board of directors is extremely frustrated and would like to move forward to review with NEON the documents provided to it by SNCC. We agree that the operation of 98 South Main St. and the relationship between the two entities needs to be revisited and reviewed by attorneys, then outlined legally, so no one can question that operation and our relationship moving forward.
We feel that NEON is not being transparent with us and that there may be a violation or a breach of contract(s). We are concerned about possible mismanagement, or worse, misappropriation of funds that were supposed to have been channeled through NEON to the SNCC, but which the center never received. SNCC’s programs have been unilaterally taken away by and now remain with NEON.
The SNCC operates under one contract, the HHD (Human Hispanic Development) grant from Hartford. The center has been the subcontractor on that contract, but under the new contract it is not listed. We would like to understand how this happened and are working with the Department of Social Services to obtain answers. Your CEO has suggested that SNCC begin looking for resources to pay our one full-time and one part-time employee.
Your leadership is concerned with the rental income for the multi-purpose room (MPR) and wants the accounting. I informed your interim CEO that the SNCC will not disclose that information, but that it generated approximately $15,000 in 2012 and roughly $9-10,000 in 2011. We are fully prepared to disclose all our information but feel we have been mislead by NEON’s leadership in that they would be transparent and forthcoming. NEON has not been willing to work with the SNCC. Our relationship with your leadership is non-existent and combative. In addition, NEON’s leadership tells us they have paid the bills for 30 years, which is demonstrably false. SNCC’s programs had funds that were allocated toward the operating expenses of the building. At this time, it is true we do not contribute toward the operating expenses because we have minimal income and one HHD contract that we operate under.
This is something that certainly needs our attention. We are requesting a meeting so that you (the board members) can hear the SNCC’s board’s concerns. We are willing to sit down to iron this out before we get attorneys involved. However, I have received a letter from your attorney asking me to cease communication with your leadership and for them not to respond to my “verbal threats.” Let me assure you that I have not threatened anyone and take that allegation very seriously. What I have said is that if by Feb. 1st, we do not have luck in setting a meeting, NEON would be hearing from our attorney and that I would in good conscious have to inform the public. We would much rather have a conversation and leave the press and public out of this.
At this time, our attorneys are drafting a response to Mr. Widland’s letter to me.
Here is a list of what we are requesting;
• Building operating expenses for the past five years
• Accounting of rental income from tenants
• Program/grant income for building operating expenses
• Income and Expense reports for overhead
• The full HHD contract for the SNCC for the past five years
• Actual contract and amendments
• Accounting of funds that have been administered
• Accounting of how funds were spent and allocated
• Employees paid
• Audit reports for the SNCC
• Financial accounting of anything that relates to the SNCC
• All pertinent documents that relate to the SNCC
I thank you for your attention. We certainly do not want to have our internal issues publicized as we both stand to lose that battle in the public’s eyes. We are both in the rebranding/rebuilding stage so we ask that you please understand our frustration and acknowledge our requests.
Norwalk Community Center Board of Directors Chairman
Common Council minority leader