Report: NEON furloughs 50 employees, suspends most programs

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A Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) employee shows off her ID card Tuesday. She had crossed out NEON as her employer and written, “CDI-maybe unemployed.”

(Updated 9:20 p.m. Nov. 7, number of people furloughed, new headline)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) Board of Directors Chairman Michael Berkoff has furloughed “most” NEON staff pending an internal financial and program review, Berkoff confirmed in a phone call Wednesday night.

Thursday night, Berkoff said the number of furloughed employees is 50, with 49 others still working.

It was not known exactly which programs were being affected Wednesday, but Berkoff said the Energy Assistance program was one of just three that are up and running. Thursday, a NEON spokesman said the Stamford after-school program was open.

An employee said that NEON’s childcare program was closed Wednesday and will be closed through the week, leaving hundreds of families without childcare.

Berkoff confirmed the action was taken because NEON did not have the money to continue operating the programs that depend on DSS funding.

Berkoff said an intial report that the furloughs were for 60 days was not correct. “I can’t tell you right now if it’s 60 days or six days,” he said.

The chairman said a board meeting is planned for Thursday night in Stamford when, following an executive session a new CEO will be announced.

Berkoff’s words confirmed the end of the brief, turbulent Chiquita Stephenson era as interim President and CEO (see separate story).

An anonymous source told NancyOnNorwalk that the Rev. Tommie Jackson of Stamford’s Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church would be taking over the reins as a “turnaround specialist.” Berkoff said he had no comment on that.

Berkoff also said the board be coming up with a plan for where they are taking NEON and, within a week, an action plan to get there. NEON is working with Community Development Institute (CDI) to transfer its Head Start children to their care. The situation is complicated because NEON offers other services at Nathaniel Ely School and the Ben Franklin Center, where Head Start classes are held. Berkhoff said NEON is waiting for CDI to develop the legal language for a Memorandum of Understanding that would prevent NEON from being held responsible for any liabilities incurred by CDI.

NEON failed to make its payroll Monday, and some employees said they were told by  Stephenson there was no money to pay them and no date when money might be available. Stephenson was placed on unpaid leave Wednesday morning.

The furloughs became known just hours after NEON directors received an email from the Department of Social Services informing the local agency that DSS would not renew one contract when it ends Dec. 31, and placing NEON on notice that it is in danger of losing other DSS contracts.


10 responses to “Report: NEON furloughs 50 employees, suspends most programs”

  1. lael

    Hold on, NEON employees! Mayor-elect Rilling’s a-comin to rescue you!!! He’s promised as he campaigned (while promising everything to everyone) to fund NEON–he was at city hall chanting and demonstrating along with you. And he criticized Moccia in a hit piece mailer for not supporting NEON. You rewarded him with your votes. And I’m sure he’s going to make good on all those promises he made to fund you! LOL–don’t hold your breath. You’ve been had.

  2. M Allen

    “furloughed until further notice because the Department of Labor has advised NEON management that it is unlawful to have people working when there is no money to pay them”
    Does one actually need to be told by the DOL that its unlawful to have people work if you can’t pay them?
    On a serious note: Is there not another local agency that can be funded in order to carry out these roles? Maybe even hire those employees temporarily? Or are all services just shut down and the recipients are out in the cold until someone figures out how to help them? How is it the state doesn’t have the ability to fill the gap?

  3. lael

    @m allen: Do yourself a favor and actually read the city’s budget. And then you’ll understand that there is no money laying in a drawer somewhere to fund NEON. You (I’m guessing,) voted for Malloy who’s essentially bankrupted this state so, sorry to inform you, there’s NO MONEY to “fill the gap.” And other agencies are fighting to stay afloat in this economic downturn. NEON’s in the boat their in because they grossly mismanaged their finances. Pure and simple. They should not be helped out. Will be fun to watch how Rilling will make good on his promise to help them out even though the feds have all kinds of issues with them.

  4. unaffiliated

    I find it all very troubling. Moccia was vilified as being responsible for ignoring NEON and all want to blame a Republican for this. Now we have our double-dipper Demorcrat mayor – where is NEON on approaching him?

  5. M Allen

    @lael – do yourself a favor my confused friend. I was not referring to NEON. They obviously should be defunded given the circumstances. But when a gov’t agency ceases future funding to NEON, the money still exists, it just isn’t going to NEON anymore. One would think another entity could be used in place of NEON to ensure the end recipients aren’t screwed just because NEON has been blacklisted.
    And thanks for thinking I may have voted for Malloy. You may in fact be the only reader on this site who thinks that could be possible. lol

  6. Avatar

    Ditto why has it taken so long for NEON board and state legislators to act. Reminder several months ago most board member, Rep. Morris and members of the clergy defended NEON leadership when some enlightened board members sounded alarms. Has anyone seen a copy of the city’s lease agreement for Ely & Ben Franklin? What about those @ state level who appointed Ms. Phaenious Wilson to help fix things? It’s not just about money. Mayor Rilling should consider working with Stamford Mayor to appoint a blue ribbon panel to conduct a post mortem. The goal, to find out what how what went wrong and to use lessons learned going forward.

  7. Don’t Panic

    The “must be signed today” agreement appears to be still in the drafting stage…it is becoming increasingly difficult to see a way forward for NEON no matter who the leaders are.

  8. Dawn

    It interesting to see when the chips are down, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.
    NEON NEEDS HELP. They need experts in many different fields to come to the table and assist. Rev. Tommie Jackson what is his experience? Has he managed a conglomerate such as Neon? Why not put an advisory in place and work towards six months processes at a time, selecting a board member who has the time to hit the ground running working through the day issues, meeting with staff individually-not via letter or police, but put forth a good faith effort to fix things.
    Staff members are angry and upset, which they have every right to be. Long time ago I was taught that you don’t mess with people-their kids and their money. Staff members deserve the right to be spoken to indivually and maybe collectively when it comes to their lively hood.
    The Board is asking staff members to sign confidentiality statement- For what? When people are concerned, hurt or marred by a situation NOT handled professionally-its how the situation is handled that may provide all parities with a suitable outcome.

    Maybe the agency looses some of its programs and staff,-which is factual and imminent but through a committed effort start re banding, refocusing and remaining everyone, that Rome was not built in a day and that with every challenge and struggle, “one” does become stronger.

  9. Don’t Panic

    There are some of us on the “bandwagon” of good governance and transparency, regardless of which agency happens to be in the spotlight.
    The fact here is that grant monies have been badly mismanaged for years. There were people in charge who did not understand the basic bookkeeping requirements of an agency of this size or scope.
    The situation is so bad it is not a case of fixing the books but to create them almost from scratch. It is not mean or evil to point this out. It is the first step to fixing the problem. I am most concerned about the people dependent on these programs and the rank and file workers. They need some temporary aid while this massive undertaking is handled.

  10. Oldtimer

    NEON certainly needs lots of help, but, hoping for competent volunteer book keepers is foolish. They need to hire a real expert and pay a reasonable salary.

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