SoNoCC: NEON should be evicted after second power shut-off

Michael Roman and Pat Ferrandino turn the power back Thursday at the South Norwalk Community Center.

NORWALK, Conn. – Pat Ferrandino spent time – again – Friday morning getting the lights back on at the South Norwalk Community Center, which he says is reason for the failing Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) to be evicted from the city-owned building the two South Norwalk non-profits have shared since it was built.

“I believe that by impeding on the services of two social services agencies that NEON has violated the terms of the covenant and should therefore be evicted from this building. They should lose their right to this building” said Ferrandino, the SoNoCC deputy director.

Friday morning was the second time in less than 24 hours that NEON officials had ordered the electricity to the first floor of the building – occupied by SoNoCC and the health clinic AmeriCares – to be shut off.

Ferrandino said he was on his way to the University of Connecticut to pick up his child when a volunteer called and said the power in the building was off again, although there were people in NEON’s space on the second floor. He turned around to come to Norwalk and called Norwalk Police, he said. AmeriCares officials called him expressing concern about the medication and about being in the middle of a dispute, he said.

“The building was locked,” he said. “Police said there was no way to get in, it was locked, there was no one answering the door. They referred me to Deputy Chief Sue Zecca. I left a message. … I believe the mayor was also advised of the cutting of the electricity.”

Ferrandino said he was planning to call Norwalk Police and file a harassment complaint after breaking in to the areas again to restore power, but the power was turned back on. He quoted NEON Facilities/Maintenance Manager Charles Brown as saying, “I was told to turn the electricity back on because we don’t want to risk spoiling the medication.”

Ferrandino said he did not know how long the power had been off.

“We have to see if there’s been any damage,” he said. “Hopefully the medical supplies at AmeriCares as well as our computers are not damaged.”

Jackson said Thursday that NEON staff had been sent into the building at about 9 p.m. “to repair the damage” done by “vandalism.”

NancyOnNorwalk sent an email to Jackson asking if that had included turning the breakers off again. Jackson and NEON board Chairman Mike Berkoff declined to comment, citing the importance of the Good Friday religious observance underway. Jackson said he would answer that question Monday, as well as respond to other allegations made by Ferrandino.

NEON sent SoNoCC leaders a letter on March 23 demanding money for the electric bill, said the Rev. Tommie Jackson, NEON transitional CEO and president. An email was sent Thursday saying NEON would shut off the power in the building due to non-payment, Jackson said. That was done, he said.

Ferrandino said that, at about 7 p.m. Thursday, he got a phone call from volunteers telling him the power was off. It was not cut off by South Norwalk Electric and Water, he said. NEON shut it off by turning off the breakers. The breakers are in a mechanical room that is locked by NEON, he said. NEON has the only key.

After calling Mayor Harry Rilling and explaining the situation, Ferrandino led a break-in to two mechanical areas to restore power, citing the expensive medications in the refrigerator at AmeriCares and Rilling’s sanctioning of the tactic. Handyman Michael Roman also broke into another area, which connects to NEON’s receptionist area, under Ferrandino’s supervision.

Ferrandino said Friday that that area is needed by SoNoCC as part of its upcoming renovation. NEON has been denying access, he said.

NEON, which by most accounts is nearing bankruptcy, and the South Norwalk Community Center share 98 South Main St. NEON has the entire second floor and parts of the first floor. SoNoCC leaders say their organization has the rights to the entire first floor, rights granted in a quit claim deed.

The electricity dispute is the latest chapter in what has become a public struggle between the two social service agencies.

South Norwalk activist Ernie Dumas said Friday Ferrandino is to blame.

“Pat Ferrandino has created a problem,” he said. “It’s not all NEON’s fault.”

SoNoCC has not done its fair share when it comes to sharing the building, he said. “Everybody has been quiet, except for Pat Ferrandino and Warren Pena,” he said, repeating the recent history: Pena’s aunt was in charge of the center, until she retired last year after being told by former NEON interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious that she would have to report to NEON, not the SoNoCC. Ferrandino’s wife took over the role as a volunteer. Ferrandino eventually volunteered, too.

“He came there wanting to change everything around,” Dumas said. “When NEON was in charge and NEON was doing what they were doing, the Latino people didn’t go neglected.”

A November letter from the state Department of Social Services, however, says NEON failed to provide services it was obligated to provide under a contract with DSS from April 2013 through Oct. 17, when inspectors showed up to investigate the agency, which was labeled an agency “in crisis.” DSS terminated NEON’s contract to provide those services.

“This stuff between two minority groups has to stop,” Dumas said. “It’s boiling over and it’s making everybody angry – and some of our officials are backing our guy.”

He cited Rilling.

“I don’t think our mayor is playing a good role in the whole issue,” he said. “Our mayor is actually supposed to be in the middle of the road of all this stuff. He’s the one who is supposed to be solving the problems. He’s not.”

“I have been in the middle of the road trying to work with both sides,” Rilling said. “I think a comment like that is disingenuous. I just don’t think Ernie knows all the details. I can certainly understand his confusion.”

Rilling confirmed that the power had been shut off but didn’t know if it had been shut off twice. He said he spoke to Jackson and told him the power needed to be on to keep the medications intact.

“I told him, ‘This week I’m going to have a meeting in my office and we are going to sit down and resolve the immediate issues that need to be resolved so we can start moving forward on a final resolution on all of these issues,’” he said.

Ferrandino said the power shut-off would have been a problem even if there weren’t medications at risk. The center is hosting a seminar Saturday morning and an Easter egg hunt Sunday, he said.

“Their intentional action was impeding both our ability and the ability of AmeriCares to do business,” he said. “We called police to let them know that their act was intentional. We believe it was malicious and intentional on the part of NEON. A tenant was essentially being illegally evicted based on cutting off electricity through no fault of their own, in a breach of their tenant agreement.”

He said the tactic might be valid in a residential contract but he didn’t think it was valid in a commercial contract.

City Hall was closed for Good Friday. Rilling said he didn’t have access to the quit claim deed and did not know what clauses, limitations or restrictions might be in it.

“I haven’t seen the deed. That’s something for the law department,” he said.

Ferrendino said the door to the mechanical room has been locked for months. “Although we have repeatedly asked NEON for a key, they have refused to provide us a key,” he said. “Each time we have had an architect or engineer down here as part of our design phase for the renovation, we have had to beg them for access.”

Jackson has no roots in Norwalk, he said.

“Rev. Jackson rarely is seen at this building,” he said. “If NEON, as published reports indicate, may be closing, this just appears to be a malicious and vindictive attempt on his part to stimulate and draw us into controversy. We want to stay focused on the good work that we have been doing in collaboration with some of Norwalk’s finest institutions.”



19 responses to “SoNoCC: NEON should be evicted after second power shut-off”

  1. The Norwalker

    Having worked in the non-profit sector for years neither of these two organizations seem to be very professional. There are several non-profit organizations operating in the local area and only these two are putting on a free circus for the public.

  2. Casey Smith

    I have no idea what NEON is trying to prove, but if NEON think this is going to help their image, it’s working. If I were a Norwalk or Stamford parent and saw the article about enrolling my child in their summer program, I’d be ROTFLMA. NO way, not now, not ever. I hope Americares sues NEON over this for whatever is left of NEON’s pitiful holdings.

  3. SoNoCC

    Firstly, we invite you to see the work going on at SoNoCC. Secondly, we are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of our space here on the first floor at 98 South Main Street so that the work of the community can be conducted. Likewise, AmeriCares Free Clinic is entitled to conduct their good work without disruption. When a malicious and intentional act of vandalism and harassment jeopardizes valuable medical supplies, destroys computer equipment and impedes the good work of these non-profit organizations, what is one to do? We chose to act immediately to restore electrical service and to file a complaint with the Norwalk Police.

  4. ScopeonNorwalk

    If SNEW or a landlord turns off the electricity because the tenant did not pay and the tenant destroys property to turn it back on, that is a crime…why is Mayor Rilling allowing SNCC to operate above the law?…If SNCC can’t afford to pay $12,000 in electrical fees who is going to pay the almost 100,000 it takes to keep the power on year round?

  5. ScopeonNorwalk

    Both of these organizations are flawed and doomed. If Mayor Rilling chooses to build a social services on the back of either of these organizations it will mark his failed leadership.

  6. John Hamlin

    NEON has lost all credibility. Period.

  7. SoNoCC

    SNEW did NOT turn off the electric and NEON is NOT SoNoCC’s landlord. SoNoCC CAN afford to pay for electricity, however this has ALWAYS been NEON’s responsibility, in exchange for NEON-occupied space on SoNoCC’s first floor.

  8. Marjorie M

    Both NEON and SNCC should be ashamed of their actions. SNCC doesn’t need to vent publicly. I agree with The Norwalker. This is a circus that should not be allowed to act above the law

  9. Community

    South norwalk collects money from party after party. South norwalk never paid a light bill gas bill water bill or tax bill. Neon paid it all. I recall neon drafting a document by attorney mike widland i believe at a meeting to hold south norwalk responsible and south Norwalk refused. Where does taxpayers money goes that south norwalk keeps getting, and not having to account for? Something smells fishy again

  10. Cantwejustgetalong

    Why is Mr. Dumas instigating the race issue? Get over yourself. This issue is between the people running NEON and Sonocc. It has nothing to do with race. These south Norwalk democrats need to stop trying to start something between the African Americans and Latinos is south Norwalk. If you were smart enough you would team up and work together to improve south Norwalk…..

  11. loveforthecity

    ScopeonNorwalk aka Faye
    Community aka Travis

    Give it a rest!

  12. ScopeonNorwalk

    @loveforthrcity is that your best response?

  13. ScopeonNorwalk

    I will give it a rest when the SNCC is investigated. Don’t throw stones unless you want them thrown back…SNCC is guilty of everything they accused NEON of…South Norwalk is moving on from both. To bad the BOE didn’t check before they agreed to partner…

  14. ScopeonNorwalk

    The moral of the story, stop taking money from South Norwalk…these non profits are ripping us off then going back to Stamford, Wilton, New Canaan, and Felix Lane…that stops now.

  15. ScopeonNorwalk

    I read in the Hour that the Board voted not to pay the electrical debt. Is it legal for a Board to vote not to pay a debt legally owed especially while taking rent from people who I am sure are assuming that their rent is going to cover electrical costs…what does Americare’s lease say about utilities because if it says it’s included but yet still SNCC made no payments to NEON, that’s theft right there.

  16. Casey Smith

    Where NEON goes, trouble follows.

  17. Wise Old Man

    I would like to offer you some advice. During the past year, you have done wonderful work in turning around a non-profit organization and making it a place of wonderful programs for the community. You have gained the trust and confidence of the non-profit community, of the republican and democratic politicians, and of the Superintendent of Schools. Don’t listen to the peanut gallery who are saying whatever it takes, including lies, to distract you and those you are working with from doing your good work. Ignore them. Soon they will have nothing more to say. The community of South Norwalk will witness your wonderful work and will also ignore their lies. Desperate people do desperate things. The peanut gallery is on the outside looking in and soon the side show will be over. NEON will be gone.

  18. The Norwalker


    I am sure the staff of SoNoCC is doing the best that they can with what they have, that is the way it is in many non-profits. Most often the downfall of non-profits is caused by management.

    The Management of both the SoNoCC and NEON have not been presenting a good example for their staff to follow. Bickering has created unneeded bad press for both Organizations. Even if I had spare cash, I would not think of donating to either Organizations.

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