Stephenson defends self after aborted NEON board meeting

Former Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) interim CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson criticizes actions taken by the board as board member Cynthia Bowser looks on, Wednesday in Stamford.

NORWALK, Conn. – The infighting at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now spilled out into a Stamford hallway Wednesday night as deposed CEO Chiquita Stephenson defended her record, said she wouldn’t be made a “escape goat” and that “little so-called meetings” of board factions would not help the situation or the families in dire straits.

Stephenson, who maintains that she is still acting NEON CEO and president due to an illegal board vote, said that it was paperwork done under her watch that has made the struggling agency eligible for $1.2 million in funding for rebuilding purposes. But NEON board member Jack O’Dea said she bounced employee paychecks after being expressly told not to issue them. Stephenson’s replacement, the Rev. Tommie Jackson, said there is a “string of text messages” to back that up.

Stephenson arrived at NEON’s Stamford offices after NEON board Chairman Mike Berkoff called off Wednesday’s board meeting 25 minutes after it was scheduled to begin due to lack of a quorum. She handed board member Cynthia Bowser two mobile phones that belong to NEON and had been in her possesion, went into the board room and then came back out into the hallway.

She jumped into a conversation among Bowser, O’Dea, Berkoff and NEON founder Bobby Burgess when she heard Bowser suggest having a meeting just to clear the air, not for any business purpose but to work out personality issues.

“I don’t want to clear the air here because if you wanted to clear the air you would tell the truth and in telling the truth it would help the people,” she said. “You have so many families that are suffering… Just because people are not telling the truth because they were so busy being connected by having back door meetings. It’s unnecessary.”

Berkoff said NEON’s “crash” began before she took over.

“It doesn’t matter if the crash was before I took it over,” Stephenson replied. “We were supposed to get all the facts. We still got all the facts to help the people.”

Berkoff asked if the money was coming in at that point.

“Guess what?” Stephenson said. “You guys are ending up with $1.3 million now, it’s because of the work that was done to clear the deficiencies.”

“How come we couldn’t get the $1.3 million then?” Berkoff asked.

“You had to finish the documentation, which we did,” she said.

That documentation included “many past people” who are going to have to deal with it, she said.

“But nobody is going to have the opportunity to take my name and take me and use me as the reason why this transpired. But God knows. If every last one of you would tell the truth you had the information not to point fingers but to make a difference. You’ve got the information to help families regain an opportunity to restructure and rebuild their lives. Not with the BS that’s being said and the slander that’s people are being called. People aren’t being helped with that,” she said. “But there’s all the documentation which everybody has. Everybody sat at a table, opposed to in their little so-called meetings, and got together and went over it to be able to connect the social services to those that are unemployed, to those that need the education, to those that need the healthcare. It takes strong leadership to do that. It takes people to be in a position to say I was wrong and I apologize, but now that we know what can we do to get together and what can we do to fix it?”

After saying that “sidebar conversations” won’t solve the problems and help the families, Stephenson turned to go, saying, “You all care about your sidebar meetings but you won’t use me as an escape goat.”

After she left, O’Dea said Stephenson bounced about $200,000 in paychecks, after being told by Berkoff and a bank manager not to do it.

“You can’t be surprised when you’re asked to leave. It’s pretty simple,” he said.

Jackson stepped up to elaborate.

“Chiquita made an effort to get a line of credit, which was denied,” he said. “She issued the checks, despite the full warning and the direction of Mr. Berkoff not to do so. … There’s a string of text messages that will support that it was told to Chiquita not to do.”

Part of Stephenson’s conversation with board members is shown in the video below. Other issues described by board members are detailed in the story here.

Jackson has said in the past that Stephenson still had NEON property. An email from Gail Meaney of NEON’s Human Relations department said Stephenson’s paychecks were being withheld because she had not returned NEON property. After Stephenson turned over the phones, O’Dea told her there were checks for her.


10 responses to “Stephenson defends self after aborted NEON board meeting”

  1. longtime resident

    Self-serving, grandstanding B.S., throwing around catch phrases and innuendos…. Enough already, and didn’t she learn her lesson about the escape goat last time?

    Whatever the board has to do, get rid of this person. Families need a real agency with qualified professionals running it, not the farce hat NEON has become. I pray that those running HeadStart now will have a legitimate program that does in fact achieve school readiness. We haven’t had that for decades. Before someone jumps on this, it is no fault of those ‘teachers’ working in the program.

  2. The Norwalker

    Stephenson only needs to explain why she continued to operate the unfunded Headstart Program which caused NEON to go deep into the RED and caused the lost of all of NEON’s State Funded Programs because of lack of Funds. She needs to explain this to all the clients, employees and other Stakeholders of those State Funded Programs that she undermined.

    I wonder how she benefited from doing this?

  3. still not paid

    She should have done what they are doing now. Closing headstart in June and only running the program for 10 months. And Berkoff said it was falling before she even got in. Its not about the community no more.

  4. c’mon already

    Stephenson is a total charlatan, look at how sharply dressed she is showing up wanting her gig back. Go listen to every clip NON has in its archive and you will see that in the clip above she is giving her same old stump speech. No matter the issue or what is being asked of her, she says a few words and soon reverts back to a jumble of the same old refrain: “leadership that connects services to families and mothers that know about working, and I will show you the documentation, and the progress and the spirit of connecting the words I said last time to the job I really still want.” Look, it’s hard to replace a 125k job when all you have is a high school diploma.

  5. longtime resident

    Heck of a gig for someone with a high school diploma. And she lied about it, to boot. The state reports speak for themselves. Time for her and her crew to disappear.

    In the end, if NEON does go bankrupt, it will mean more expense and a bigger tax burden for the working families in Norwalk.

  6. Taxpayer Fatigue

    She’s clearly following the adage “a good defense is a good offense.” She is just trying to prove how tough she is and that she will pull every card in the deck when they come after her for the bounced checks. Save your bluster Chiquita and get a good lawyer – you are going to need it, especially after NEON goes into bankruptcy and a judge starts combing through the wreckage.

    Not only did they hurt the families who needed their services, even the current leadership is showing a complete disregard for their creditors, the businesses who supported their mission and now are stuck with unpaid bills and little hope of getting paid. Berkhoff seems to think that 20 cents on the dollar is okay and that the creditors should be thrilled at getting a tidbit from them. Are they stupid enough to believe that they can reorganize and get credit from businesses going forward after screwing literally everyone they dealt with – clients, employees, vendors, banks, taxpayers, the DSS, the City, SNEW, CL&P, etc.?

    The only responsible thing to do at this point, is to transfer the few services they still provide to other agencies and liquidate.

  7. hersheyteach101

    Look, in no way, shape or form does she want this position back.She has moved on and she is still serving the community it is just too bad so many people have their own personal issues with her to be able to see it. All she wants is for those snakes to tell the truth and clear her name so I guess because they were a suit and claim to have so much eeducation, oh yeah and they are men, I guess they have to be right! So sick of the negativity……move on I have. Oh yeah, c’om already, what does her clothes have to do with anything please get over your self…lol!

  8. still not paid

    Its sad how people are so focused on how she talks, how she looks, how much money she wants and whatever else. She dont want to come back and she is not coming back. Everyone lost focused to what is at hand. People are still weeks without being paid, still no health insurance for people working, and still no vacation time paid for the people that worked there. No one there focused on the people in the community.

  9. lifelong teacher

    It’s hard not to focus on how she talks – because she just doesn’t stop. Threats, accusations, and throwing stones at others. This organization was run right into the ground, probably right into bankruptcy, and we will as taxpayers bear the brunt of it.

    I’m sorry for the employees who got a raw deal. More than that, I am sorry for the children amd families who have been ill served for many years.

  10. still not paid

    But tell me with the team we have now, what are they focused on? This goes deeper then anyone can imagine and all we are focused on is her. And the sad part is they can’t answer the questions at hand.

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