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Rilling to NEON: Help’s on the way, but no cash is available in Norwalk’s 2013-14 budget

Incoming Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday night he is already working with federal and state officials on the NEON problem.
Incoming Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday night he is already working with federal and state officials on the NEON problem.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) can expect more involvement coming from Norwalk City Hall – but that involvement is not likely to have any money attached to it in the current budget cycle.

Incoming Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday night that there is no money available even if something could be worked out to satisfy the city that it would be spent and accounted for properly.

“The money (Mayor Richard Moccia) did not give to NEON no longer exists,” Rilling said. “It went to keep the 4 percent-plus tax hike from being even higher.”

Moccia stopped the NEON funding, budgeted at $1.3 million annually, after a federal audit showed NEON was misspending grant money and not keeping proper financial records. Moccia originally insisted that the money would be withheld until the agency removed then-President and CEO Joe Mann from office. Mann left, but the spending and accounting problems continued and Moccia refused to restore funding.

Rilling said Monday night that he had a 90-minute conference call Sunday with the Rev. Tommie Jackson, NEON’s interim president and CEO; state Sen. Bob Duff; state Rep. Bruce Morris; NEON Board of Directors Chairman Michael Berkoff; and board member Jack O’Dea to discuss the situation that has left dozens of families without needed social services, including Head Start.

“We are at a point in time to make some tough decisions and work together closely to quickly restore services provided to so many people, both in Norwalk and the other towns and cities served by NEON,” he said. “I’ve reached out to Stamford Mayor-elect David Martin to see what we can do together” to help the situation.

Rilling, who met Monday afternoon with Duff and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, said NEON and Community Development Institute (CDI) — the Colorado-based company named to run Head Start on an interim basis — were close to an agreement to allow CDI to get Head Start open again this week. The two agencies have been working with the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to come to an agreement on the use of the Nathaniel Ely and Benjamin Franklin schools.

Rilling said it was his impression that the NEON board is ready to take action to restore the agency’s credibility in order to resume services and get people back to work. In the past two weeks, the board named Jackson to turn the agency around, laid off about 100 employees to cut payroll and moved to mend fences with the South Norwalk Community Center, and to make good on overdue electric bills.

Rilling emphasized there is a partnership between the city, state and federal government to help right the ship. He said options were discussed for moving forward, but declined to reveal what those might be. He said he had hoped that a federal receiver might be appointed that would allow for Norwalk to make money available on a month-by-month basis as long as a detailed, to-the-penny accounting was provided. But, he said, even if a receiver were appointed, Norwalk just does not have the money to offer.

Rilling said he was made aware of some agreements that were made between NEON and the city for certain payments the city would make regarding the buildings. He said he would meet with Finance Director Tom Hamilton to find out about that issue.

“The most important thing is to restore services to the children and families who depend on them, and to help the employees who were laid off just before the holidays, some of whom are in danger of losing their homes.”

Comments

29 responses to “Rilling to NEON: Help’s on the way, but no cash is available in Norwalk’s 2013-14 budget”

  1. Rilling said he “hoped that a federal receiver might be appointed that would allow for Norwalk to make money available on a month-by-month basis as long as a detailed, to-the-penny accounting was provided. But, he said, even if a receiver were appointed, Norwalk just does not have the money to offer.”
    *
    DING!! DING!! DING!!
    Rilling is going out to find a way to make Norwalk taxpayers pay for this fiasco.

  2. The Norwalker

    Well Norwalk should pay something for the services NEON provided or the City should not have left the children in the care of NEON.

    The fact that Mayor Moccia already spent the $1.3 mil that he was suppose to be holding for Headstart services means that the Mayor never intended to pay NEON no matter what happened.

  3. Norwalk should NOT pay because THE CITY did NOT leave the “kids” in the care of NEON – the PARENTS continued to leave their apples in one basket and did nothing else. THANK YOU MAYOR MOCCIA FOR KEEPING THE TAX HIKE AT BAY, AT LEAST FOR ANOTHER YEAR.
    *
    NEON didn’t stand a chance in hell of being a “rightful” agency with the thieves in charge – starting with Mann. So yes, by all means, release the money to THE PEOPLE WHO WORKED HARD FOR IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.
    *
    The mayor did not hold it because the agency WAS IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM A REPUTABLE OR RELIABLE AGENCY. It just took the public this long to find out.
    *
    The new mayor should proceed with extreme caution and LEARN A LESSON OR TWO and wait for at least 3 years with 100% compliance by NEON before EVEN ENTERTAINING a thought to GIVING these thieves a penny of taxpayers money.

  4. Casey Smith

    Norwalker – NEON needs to accept responsibility for their actions. They were the ones in control of the checkbook, not the City, the State or the Feds. Until NEON accepts the responsibility, they are just spinning their wheels – and hurting a lot of people in the process. And the more that the agency stalls around, the more it proves that the City was right to stop the funding when they did.

  5. The Norwalker

    Hopefully all of the guilty NEON Senior Management will face some serious consequences for their actions and in-actions.

    On the other hand Mayor Moccia withheld $1.3 mil that contributed to the chance that those kids were not properly provided for and at the same time Moccia never moved to use that $1.3 mil via other agencies to benefit those children. Basically he did not care and was part of the problem.

  6. Osgood Schlater

    There is no question that Neon has mishandled money on an appalling scale, or that a forensic audit is in order. However, that has nothing to do with the funding budgeted by the City of Norwalk that was needed to pay salaries at Head Start, etc., as “Norwalker” points out. Where did the $1.3 million originally budgeted for Neon and that Moccia denied Neon go? It seems to me we should be auditing the city’s books with the same zeal as we’re going after Neon.

  7. The Norwalker

    I would support Mayor Moccia’s actions if his intentions was to cut off the head (Senior Management) of NEON.

    Destroying the entire organization will just cause hardships for clients and NEON Staff from Greenwich to Norwalk.

  8. dawn

    there are other organizations that do not have the problems that NEON does that can offer the services that NEON tried and failed to do.
    .
    A city government in no way HAS to subsidize a private not for profit entity. They do so when they see fit to do so. Whatever that criteria is I am not going into. But NEON had an agreement to provide services and failed to do so.
    The city continued to provide them building space and they could not even manage to pay the electric bill.
    .
    I agree. a 100% compliance record for 3 maybe 5 years and then NEON would be elligible to apply for city money again.
    .
    I want to know where are the rallies calling for criminal prosecution of MANN, STEPEENSON, PHINEOUS AND THE BOARD MEMBERS WHO SUPPORTD THEM. the board members who signed off on raises they had no business getting.
    .
    I also want to know how much money other minucipalities give to NEON.
    .
    I also want to know how much compensation in any way shape or form the Good Reverend is getting. gas reimbursement (The famous perk for the head of NEON – the unlimited gas card), $1000 suits and briefcases, lunch money, promise of future payment. Is he doing it purely out of the goodness of his heart. Then say so.

  9. ” It seems to me we should be auditing the city’s books with the same zeal as we’re going after Neon.”
    What zeal??? This is YEARS in the making and only when they are completely bankrupt and people are stranded, NOW there is an “urgency”.
    Also, Rilling has already said that the money went back into the system to keep property taxes down (THANK YOU MOCCIA!!!).
    *
    And there are plenty of other organizations to pick up the slack ~hopefully sooner than later.

  10. Osgood Schlater

    If “Irish Girl” is not a good example of zeal, then perhaps we should rewrite the definition of the word or substitute the word fanaticism.
    I believe the first order of business should be to look for solutions that would get Head Start up and running to serve the approximately 400 families who depend on its preschool and daycare services. Exposing, trying and punishing malfeasance should be secondary to that effort.

  11. M Allen

    The $1.3 million was simply not budgeted for since it was not going to be given out in the current year. NEON had not taken the appropriate steps at the time the budget was being formulated, so it simply wasn’t a line item. It wasn’t held back to keep the tax increase lower. It just wasn’t budgeted for, which in and of itself kept the tax hike lower. But you don’t budget for something you don’t believe is going to be spent. Otherwise, it becomes found money later on to be spent on something else. Better to keep the money in taxpayer wallets.

    But aside from the money, look at the names associated with NEON to this day. Morris, Duff, O’Dea, etc. All these people need to step aside as none of them have an ounce of credibility when it comes to NEON. In fact, any and all senior management and directors need to be purged. Malfeasance by the management needs to be investigated and the inept fiduciary role of the board also needs to come into serious question. The board stood by while the financials were ruined, raises were given out, and the organization crumbled to the ground. They all need to go in order to make possible a fresh start. There are none of them who are guilt free in this. They’ve all got to go.

  12. The Norwalker

    Program Directors would only know how their own programs are performing unless NEON Senior Management informed them (unusual in nonprofits0. Most of the Program Directors are innocent and in fact I know several who took those bum paychecks to their banks because they did not know about the real situation.

  13. The Norwalker

    M Allen

    No those children were indirectly in the care of the city because Norwalk had not come in and relieved NEON of the responsibility of teaching those children. I am not saying that Moccia had to give the Money to NEON, but it should have somehow been spent on those children like it was contracted and budgeted for.

  14. M Allen

    Norwalker – my reference to Directors was not Program Directors. It was the Board of Directors. As for the children being indirectly in the care of the City, I’ve asked this question before: was the $1.3 million specifically given to NEON for Head Start or was it a general contribution? I’m not sure the answer would sway my opinion of holding back the money, but I just want to know. Head Start is a Federal Program and until they cut ties with NEON, I don’t think another entity could have taken it over. Do I want to see those children taken care of? Absolutely. CDI should have been able to get into those facilities on day one through whatever means necessary (court order, decree by the President, whatever). But the City doesn’t run Head Start. All the city’s money would have done was keep NEON afloat while continuing to mismanage the funds. The piper would need to be paid at some point. We cannot fault the city for cutting the funds. It was the right thing to do, but the follow up to cutting the funds was lacking across the board. Way across the board.
    .
    We can fault a wide swath of people for letting it get to this point in the first place. There were just too many people who thought the government would keep turning a blind eye and the funding would never end, or were unwilling to do the right thing and DEMAND an end to the mismanagement. I’m going to go way out on the thin end of the limb here. My personal opinion is that didn’t happen because nobody was willing to touch the third rail. This was a predominately minority-based and minority-run organization and coming down too hard would have been seen as an attack on minorities. NEON is grass roots. The uprising against the mismanagement also needed to be grass roots. Rather than so many families showing up at City Hall in the days leading up to the election to call out the Mayor, the people that rely on NEON’s services should have been at NEON’s front door with pitchforks and torches demanding the management and Board be disbanded. The grass roots should have been focused toward the problem. Instead they were used as pawns by the management of NEON to target City Hall. In the end, that was never going to solve the problem. The problem was and remains to be internal to the second floor of 98 South Main Street.

  15. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    I agree with the new mayor, until the rest of the top floor manager and administrative assists are out, I hope my taxes will not be wasted. But since the layoff its not just the teaching staff although it seem they are getting somewhat help from person to person, but what about the other staff people who was laid off, I hear even an energy person who worked in Stamford, both program I am sure with so many out of work people are going to apply and this is just the 1st month. We have staff people in the Stamford office since this merger whats up with them or do they have funds?

  16. Break the Unions

    Rilling will declare all is well at NEON by the end of the year… MARK MY WORDS.. These tax takers are the ones that got him elected.

  17. “No those children were indirectly in the care of the city because Norwalk had not come in and relieved NEON of the responsibility of teaching those children. I am not saying that Moccia had to give the Money to NEON, but it should have somehow been spent on those children like it was contracted and budgeted for.”
    *
    My gad, Norwalker, GIVE IT A REST!!! Norwalk was NOT EVER under any contractual agreement to “come in and relieve NEON of the responsibility of those children” !!!
    *
    Wow, YOU just DON”T GET IT! It WAS NOT EVER the city’s responsibility to relieve NEON!!! They DO NOT fall under the city’s jurisdiction. WOW WOW WOW – PLEASE JUST STOP TRYING TO MAKE THE CITY RESPONSIBLE FOR NEON’S CRIMINAL AND FAILED ACTIVITY. HOLD MANN, CHICKY AND PHINNEOUS WOMEN RESPONSIBLE. JUST ONCE – ACKNOWLEDGE THAT.
    *
    Do you think that if Chicky got that 1.3 MILLION dollars it would have been there for the kids???
    *
    THEY ARE CRIMINALS … That money WOULD NOT – AND I REPEAT – NOT HAVE GONE TO THE KIDS BUT to chicky babes pocket! And this ending would be taking place in another month. Former Mayor Moccia did the MOST RESPONSIBLE THING EVER – he put it back so that US the taxpayers got a “little” break.
    *
    Because you are SO obstinate, perhaps you are either related to one of the criminals or the criminal herself.

  18. Erica

    Ok, everyone one done venting now? All 6 or 7 of us. Can we get some stuff done now? Good, lets get busy.

  19. The Norwalker

    Irishgirl

    Right out the box I have said that NEON Senior Management need to pay for their deeds. My point of view has nothing to due with taking them off the hook.

    You have chosen to ignore the fact that Mayor Moccia had contracted with NEON to provide $1.3 mil dollars of Headstart services. Cities do not hand that kind of money to a entity without contracts and approved budgets.

    The fact that mayor Moccia spent that money elsewhere means that he never intended for NEON to succeed or receive any pro-rated part of that money.

    The fact that I doubt that NEON Senior Management would/could have gotten it together enough to receive the full contracted amount is a separate issue.

    I am grilling Mayor Moccia is because he was the type of Public Servant that ignored expenditures like the up keep of sidewalks and roads and placed that burden on Mayor Rilling’s plate.

    The fact that Mayor Moccia used that $1.3 mil to make his out going performance in office look better has contributed to all the pain and suffering that Headstart families have received.

    Yes NEON Senior Management hands are dirty, but so are Mayor Moccia’s

  20. M Allen

    OK, let me ask again: was the $1.3 million the City used to give NEON specific to Head Start or was it just a general contribution for various services?
    .
    Moccia didn’t spend the money elsewhere. It wasn’t in the budget, was it? If it wasn’t in the budget, it didn’t get spent. Moccia didn’t build an airport. It doesn’t mean the money for the airport got spent someplace else. It just didn;t exist in the first place.
    .
    Quit looking to blame the City, or Mayor Moccia, for NEON’s woes. NEON has been broken for a long, long time and people let it go on as long as the oney flowed. You all knew it was broken years ago. This didn’t happen overnight. But instead of focusing the anger where it should be focused, you keep wanting to deflect away from NEON and onto the previous mayor. Put your blame and anger where it belongs and should have been years ago: on a badly run organization and the bad managers and board that either caused it or allowed it to happen time and time again. When will people learn? Thse people you trusted to help the community are the ones that hurt the community. Focus your blame in the right place. Like I said in my previous post: torches and pitchforks at NEON HQ, not City Hall.

  21. The Norwalker

    M Allen

    Even if this money was not budgeted for Headstart, Mayor Moccia sure did advertise that the city was funding Headstart for $1.3 mil when it benefited him.

    Even with their fly by wire accounting system, I doubt that even NEON would agree to run a program where $1.3 may or may not be paid to them. There had to be some kind of agreement.

  22. M Allen

    Well I’m sure you will show where this $1.3 million was earmarked for Head Start. Or where this agreement was. You keep saying it was Head Start money and I don’t see that anywhere. I just see $1.3 million for NEON. And I don’t care who the money is intended to help. You don’t keep pouring money into a corrupt or mismanaged entity in the hopes that some of it will reach the end recipient.
    .
    How on Earth can you doubt that NEON would agree to runa program where the money was iffy? it wasn’t iffy? It wasn’t coming and they still tried to operate as business as usual. You know why? Because they were bad at their job. That is what mismanagement is. It is people who are bad at the job of managing. Unless you want to say it was criminal. Because it was one or the other.
    .
    I tell you what: stop blaming the city, or the previous mayor, until you can show hard evidence that NEON only failed because of the money from the City. And that you not only blamed, but called for the removal and investigation of those who caused this in the first place. Because not enough people did. They are reacting well after the horse was out of the barn, down the road, and off the cliff. Don’t blame politicians for something that fell apart because of the people actually running it. It will be much easier to ask for a bailout if you don’t blame the city to begin with.
    .
    Pitchforks, torches, NEON HQ. They are the ones who brought the roof down. Hint hint: go attack them. Grass roots uprising. Let’s see the demonstration where it belongs. Straight in the face of the board and whoever is managing that joint. Bring in the media. Call for criminal investigations on TV. Make it big. But for the love of God, stop blaming the city because they didn’t keep pouring money into a corrupt or mismanaged private entity.

  23. The Norwalker

    M Allen

    Mayor Moccia himself has referred the $1.3 Mil amount that was budgeted to NEON and if you look at my link you see on the final Norwalk Budget for Headstart a $1,312,962 variance created by holding back funds for NEON!

    Look at the top of page 9

    http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/4908

  24. Don’t Panic

    M Allen,
    Believe it was a general use grant, not Head Start, which is a federal program.

  25. M Allen

    OK, some real numbers. Thanks. These numbers are for the Budget Year July 2012 to July 2013.
    .
    Variance (1,312,962)
    “This budget decrease is due primarily to the elimination of funding for Norwalk Economic Opporntunity Now (NEON) Headstart Program of $937,875; NEON’s administrative funding of $389,500; and a reduction of the Probate Court costs of $16,655 based on a lower request…”
    .
    The actual amount budgeted to NEON in the previous year totaled $1,327,375. Approximately 70% of the money to NEON was for Head Start with the remaining portion to administrative funding. So yes, I agree with you that the cut was primarily to Head Start. Thank you for that information.
    .
    That budget was formulated and approved before July 2012. When did NEON find out they weren’t getting the money? And how did they adjust their internal budgeting? Because when the money was removed from the city’s budget, it was quite clear it wasn’t just being held back. It was gone. Did they continue to spend as though were still getting it? If so, that is bad management and board oversight. Or did they adapt their budget to the change and still end up in the position they were in? But we won’t know until someone gets into those books how they were paying to operate Head Start. Robbing other programs to make up the difference? Look, you can blame the city all you like for being the final nail in the coffin. But that nail was put there for a reason. And it wasn’t to hurt the children or the families. That nail was put there because of malfeasance and mismanagement and potentially, more serious activity. But again, thank you for at least clearing it up for me that at least $900k was money the city considered earmarked for Head Start.

  26. The Norwalker

    What I can’t understand from either side is why the contracted services were not decreased. It is obvious that the NEON Senior Management was either idiots or crooks, but if City Hall was looking for positive outcome the level of services would be decreased.

  27. The Norwalker

    Deep down in that budget it was noted that this Budget had the largest budgeted amount for road and sidewalk repairs in the two previous years.

    Is it any wonder that Mayor Rilling will be plagued with spending money to catch up with repairs that are a must for the economy of Norwalk to thrive.

    If Mayor Moccia was reelected we would have ended up with streets similar to those in Bridgeport.

  28. M Allen

    @Norwalker “, but if City Hall was looking for positive outcome the level of services would be decreased.”
    .
    Did the city mandate the level of service? And if so, in what way? I’m tying to understand this contract for service of which you speak.

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