Updated at 4:42 p.m. to add a response from NEON spokesman Scott Harris rebutting a quote and adding an update at the end.
NORWALK, Conn. – A Freedom of Information request made to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now last summer has not yet been fulfilled, despite promises and assurances that the information is on the way.
NEON has not come up with a list of all the agency’s employees, their salaries and their city/town of residence, as requested by NancyOnNorwalk last July in an attempt to answer questions about nepotism at the agency. Last week, with a hearing scheduled in Hartford over the matter, NEON’s transitional leader, the Rev. Tommie Jackson, said it would be delivered by Monday. It has not yet arrived.
The original request was made July 14 via email to then-NEON Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson, then-President and CEO Pat Wilson Pheanious and Communications Director Scott Harris.
Stephenson was in City Hall that evening for a meeting of the Common Council Finance Committee. She expressed anger to NoN, and said that NEON’s attorneys would handle the request. She declined to provide contact information for the lawyers, and said the attorney would contact NoN.
The next day Stephenson sent NoN an email that the request had been given to NEON’S attorneys.
In August, NoN asked Attorney Michael Widland, NEON’s attorney, for the documents. Widland said it was the first he had heard of it.
NoN filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission that day.
NEON Board Chairman Mike Berkoff has since been asked for the list. Harris was recently asked; he said there was no list, and not that many employees were left anyway. He said it would be impossible to get a list of employees dating to last July.
Harris took issue with that in a Tuesday afternoon email and denied making the statement.
“I have no specific knowledge on the whereabouts of NEON’s list of employees and would have never told you that they would be ‘impossible to get.’ If I made any comment to you at all regarding this issue, I would have referred your FOIA request to NEON administrators.”
NoN had filed another complaint against NEON, regarding the validity of an executive session called to discuss grant funding with then-Mayor Richard Moccia. That was due for a hearing in January, but NoN made a deal with Attorney Christopher Sugar, who was representing NEON as part of Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa, P.C, agreeing to drop that complaint in exchange for the list of employees.
The case was dropped, but Sugar was no longer working for Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa, P.C two weeks after the aborted FOI hearing. About a week after that, a letter arrived, announcing the law firm no longer represents NEON.
On March 14, NoN sent the following email to Berkoff:
“Last summer I requested a list of NEON employees, their salaries and their city of residence. Chiquita told me at one point that NEON’s lawyers were taking care of it. I never got it.
“I’ve asked repeatedly and still do not have a list. I’m sorry to put it this way but does NEON not know who is working for it?
“I filed a FOI complaint, which you probably know. The hearing has been rescheduled twice. It is planned for next Friday.
“Can you get me the list and spare me the hassle of going to Hartford?
“At this point I think a list of everyone who has worked for NEON in the last year would be appropriate. I asked for the list of current employees last July. If you can get me a list of everyone who has worked for NEON in the last year I think that would be in compliance with my original request.
“I know NEON has many problems and important issues to address but I think it shouldn’t be so difficult to get this information. I’m serious about going to Hartford.”
There was no reply until FOI commission public information officer Tom Hennick sent an email to NEON officials on Thursday, asking if he could facilitate a settlement and avoid a hearing.
“Please know that Mr. Berkoff forwarded your email to me concerning the Freedom of Information Act (tentative) hearing.
“Kindly know that I will provide you with the information requested from Chiquita Stephenson in August 2013.
“My expectation is that you will have the employee names and salaries by Monday, March 24, 2014.
“I hope that this is acceptable to you.”
NoN attempted to postpone the hearing to give Jackson time to come up with the list. Hennick said that wasn’t possible.
That evening, NEON board member Jack O’Dea called. He said he thought it was “ridiculous” that NoN did not have the list. He said he’d talk to Berkoff, that he would call back. He did call back, but said he hadn’t gotten anywhere.
No one from NEON attended the hearing held Friday. FOI Commissioner Christopher Hankins said the complaint seemed cut and dry. A preliminary ruling will be issued, he said.
On Monday Jackson had this to say in an email:
“My apologies to you. I was out of the office today, and failed to get the information to you as requested/promised. It is regrettable that you had to drive to Hartford on Friday.”
As of 4:41 p.m. Tuesday, the information had still not arrived.