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State DSS still looking to Norwalk Housing Authority as its social service agency for area

Updated, 6:27 p.m., clarification from Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – The state is still negotiating with the Norwalk Housing Authority as its potential replacement for the defunct-Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) despite the Authority’s problems, Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) spokesman David Dearborn said Monday.

“The department remains in negotiations with the Norwalk Housing Authority toward execution of a contract to form and operate a community action agency to serve the greater Norwalk area,” Dearborn said in an email.

DSS selected NHA as the new Community Action Program (CAP) agency in September after a competitive procurement process. In late November, the Administration for Children and Families division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ACF) suspended funding for the authority’s Head Start program, citing “an ongoing material failure by Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) to meet Head Start programmatic standards and federal regulations.”

“This failure poses a significant threat to the health and safety of the children served by the grantee. The programmatic concerns include unattended children and inadequate staffing, among others,” ACF said in a letter to NHA Board Chairman Cesar Ramirez.

U.S. Rep Jim Himes (D-4) said last week that he was “pretty concerned” about the Authority’s ability to handle everything on its plate. That includes the Head Start program, the rebuilding of Washington Village and its pending status as the new CAP agency, responsible for handling social services here.

The Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut (CAAWC) and the Kiwanis Club of Norwalk were also considered for CAP agency status. CAAWC Executive Director Michelle James said Monday that, with everything that the Norwalk Housing Authority is facing, she too wondered if DSS might reconsider. But CAAWC hasn’t heard anything from DSS since it was announced that NHA was the selected agency, she said.

NancyOnNorwalk was not successful in reaching the Kiwanis on Monday.

Last week, Mayor Harry Rilling said he wasn’t aware of the status of NHA as the new CAP.

“I’ve placed a call to DSS to ask about progress being made on the CAP for Norwalk catchment area,” Rilling said. “That call was made several weeks ago but I have heard nothing back. The CAP agency organization and structure must comply with State mandates and the City has a very active part in that process. I want to make sure our participation is not compromised.”

“It’s my understanding that our deputy commissioner in charge of the procurement process has spoken with Mayor Rilling,” Dearborn said Monday. “While I’m not exactly sure of the time frame, the department is still negotiating the contract terms with the entity that was selected through the official state procurement.  We certainly respect and welcome the Mayor’s interest in helping ensure that services are re-established for the greater community in the most effective manner possible.”

Rilling said Tuesday that his conversation with Deputy Director Kathleen Brennan came just after NHA was declared the CAP agency of choice, in September. Rilling said he had talked to Dearborn Tuesday and was waiting for more information.

NancyOnNorwalk had asked Dearborn if DSS had anything to say about NHA, given that it is under fire: Not only is Head Start suspended, but Town Clerk Rick McQuaid was bounced from the Board after serving less than two weeks. McQuaid’s status as an elected official makes him ineligible under state statute, NHA Attorney Donna Lattula said. The Authority had not been aware that two existing Board members have been elected officials for years, she said.

NancyOnNorwalk also mentioned, in its question to Dearborn, the negative commentary regarding the Authority being led by a husband and wife who make a combined $300,000-plus a year.

NHA Executive Director Curtis Law confirmed Monday that he and Deputy Director Candace Mayer are married. They have been married for 20 years, he said, but said he’d have to check to see what his salary is.

Law said he has been director of the Housing Authority since 1975.

Dearborn’s response to the question: “We are not even at the point of having a contractual relationship with the Housing Authority.”

Comments

2 responses to “State DSS still looking to Norwalk Housing Authority as its social service agency for area”

  1. John Levin

    “The Authority had not been aware that two existing Board members have been elected officials for years, she said.”

    Similarly, it’s seems just as reasonable the The Authority had not been aware that the Ececutive Director and the Deputy Director had been married, for years. Or at least not aware that they are married to each other.

    Precious.

  2. Bill NIghtingale Jr

    Wow, between NHA and Redevelopment Agency how low can we go?

    Thank you NoN for pointing out this episode of nepotism in our local government.

    Maybe after 40 years it is time for a leadership change at NHA. Or better yet just shut it down as we should the Redevelopment Agency.

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