Stephenson will lead NEON for six months while board looks for permanent head

NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk’s anti-poverty agency will be led by a long-time employee for six months, a board member said Tuesday.

NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now) Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson will replace interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious for a term of six months, board member Susan Weinberger said in an email.

The expected appointment has been controversial. Pheanious recommended that Stephenson be appointed for 18 months, a plan that has been sternly criticized by Connecticut Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Brembly.

Brembly sent the board a letter dated Friday, Aug. 2, offering DSS assistance in conducting a nationwide search for a new CEO and president. That offer included financial help with the search, and repeated his opposition to Stephenson being given a longer contract.

Weinberger indicated in her email that the offer was a deciding factor in appointing Stephenson to the shorter term.


12 responses to “Stephenson will lead NEON for six months while board looks for permanent head”

  1. Piberman

    Imagine the new NEON Board taking 6 months to find a replacement CEO who will earn about the same as our distinguished Mayor Moccia responsible for a 300 million dollar budget. How can NEON gain confidence
    of the community in not anticipating a new CEO selection. Or was the real story that the interim CEO had already been pre-selected as a permanent CEO of NEON despite questions of credentials in this case an Assoc. degree. Since NEON is funded in part by the City why are our elected leaders – Mayor Moccia and Council President Hempstead so quiet about such lapses in leadership and basic business practice by NEON’s Board. Is it because its an election year ? Or is it because the Board is beyond any criticism ? Given NEON’s role in serving many citizens we ought to be confident of its management. Yet the reverse is true. New Board Directors do not seem to have made the difference in restoring a well functioning NEON. Maybe the State can be asked to manage NEON.

  2. Norwalk Spectator


    Not everything in the world has to do with the upcoming election.

    N.E.O.N. is overseen by the State. DSS actually supersedes the City government. N.E.O.N has both State and Federal regulations that they are expected to comply with. Although the City does provide funding, N.E.O.N. is not a City agency. The new fiscal year has just started and if N.E.O.N. doesn’t get its act together by the next budget cycle, then perhaps the newly seated Council will not approve the funding.

    A couple of years ago, I seem to remember there was a huge debate in the Common Council about possibly not funding N.E.O.N. and the cry went up across the City that it was “for the children”. Depending on how this situation resolves itself, it may be time to revisit that question.

  3. Ace22

    @NorwalkSpectator….Should N.E.O.N.continue its questionable practices and blind leadership, I think the state should dismantle the current leadership, top management, and under-performing employees; change the standardization of protocol and culture. In sum, GUT the nonprofit and begin renovation with experienced leadership, develop new practices, and hold everyone accountable! I would even recommend changing the name of the organization if this were to occur. Just my humble opinion…

  4. JustAsking

    Didn’t the mismanagement of many areas take place during this COO’s tenure who now has been promoted to CEO? The Board has shown no fiduciary responsibility towards the people that this agency continually mis-serves.

  5. piberman

    This is a real trajedy unfolding and our elected leaders seem to be practicing “hear no evil, see no evil”. The previous set of NEON Directors failed to exercise even minimum fiduciary oversight as evident by the Federal audit. Some of those Directors were Common Council members. The new set of Directors seems clueless about how to undertake a permanent CEO search when it was known far in advance that one would be required. Now an interim CEO has been appointed with confusion about credentials – in this case an Associate Degree. So far the new Board remains silent on both the credentials for the interim CEO slot and the individual chosen. The obvious question is why Mayor Moccia and his administration is stepping up to the plate and providing resources to assist NEON. After all when the previous permanent CEO was alleged of not providing proper oversight the Mayor and other officials immeditely called for his resignation. Here’s a chance to lend a real helping hand to get NEON back on its feet and City officials prefer to remain uninvolved. So much for “leadership”. NEON’s problems reflect poorly on our City. And its collective leadership. If NEON provides valuable services to a substantial subset of our City why isn’t its malfunction a matter of importance to City government ?

  6. NorwalkDinosaur

    @piberman is right on in his assessment here.

  7. oldtimer

    Didn’t the board, and the present temporary director, know for a year and a half when Ms Pheanious’ term was expiring ? Why is it suddenly a problem to find a proper replacement ? No wonder the State is questioning the process.

  8. Norwalk lifer

    All this talk of degrees, Mayor Esposito didn’t have a college degree


    He was elected by the citizens of Norwalk, Mayor Moccia has a BS in Business Administration,

    Why this tempest in a teapot about degrees?

  9. Ace22

    @Norwalk lifer
    It’s not necessarily about a degree. I’m sure there are many examples of great leaders who doesn’t/didn’t have a degree. It’s about a recognizable community leader potentially LYING about her degree! If you’re willing to lie about something a simple as a college degree, what other ethical standards will you cross (if you hadn’t already)? Furthermore, many organizations’ board of directors(for profit or nonprofit) would dismantle their leadership if their top management team practiced poor judgment in decision making, mismanaged funds, purposely stifled transparency, and lacked the ability to diligently explain financial practices. Furthermore, though many organizations hire from within, especially when it involves position of authority, they usually perform a national search for the position as well. So again, this is NOT about a degree (at least not for me), it’s really about ethical practices. Oh and btw, in my field of work, if anyone lied about a degree and/or couldn’t provide its authenticity, there would be no such thing as, “Wait, let me explain,” or “It was a clerical error,” it would be a total dismissal from their position immediately! There’s no way a board will even consider someone for a CEO position who couldn’t prove their credentials. Anyway, just my thoughts. Thanks for posting!

  10. loveforthecity

    Welcome back Bobby Burgess. In six months, get rid of this woman or else NEON will be run by Burgess for months and years to come all over again.

  11. Norwalk lifer

    And thank you for responding Ace22, what I am illuminating is that there has been a lot of flotsam and jetsam in this discussion concerning the validity of degrees. I, too, have a vast career in high tech, which, utilizes the trade off of action; if you are to criticize NEON, possibly it would be in the context of poor preparation for secession planning, but I would also argue that the learning curve that would ensue in gutting an organization does indeed carry demetritous effects for those who benefit from NEON’s services.

    NEON’s fuel assistance program is a vital tool for the elderly in South Norwalk; to further “red tape” such a program defeats the purpose of NEON; and having someone at the helm, who is clearly in the kliegl lights of public scrutiny, WITH the knowledge base to make sure programs such as Head Start and the Fuel Assistance program as well as health services continues those services to those in need uninteruppted is a small price to pay compared to the Stalin-like calls for “The Great Purge” as I see here.

    Another distressing antedote to this story is the character assasination of Mary Mann; Mary Mann has been very active in dedicating her time in improving services in South Norwalk, her work on the Norwalk Library Board of Trustees has been exemplary. Sensationalism does indeed interest many, but the boring details of an individual’s past involvement seems to elude the interest of the reader.

    I do not see where lying was incorporated in this degree discussion; I see that there was an attempt to make this a private matter. I ask you, many a closed door session has been held in decision making for the “good” of Norwalk by this mayor. Can we also assume that the criticism for hiding from the light of day “these critical discussions” are open for debate also?

    Norwalk Lifer

  12. Ace22

    @Norwalk Lifer
    Thank you for responding and presenting a solid alternative stance! Closed door sessions are indeed necessary to organize future plans and create a comprehensive plans of action for implementation without various (and sometimes uneducated input) from the public. And by “educated” I mean “lacking knowledge/insight” for said issue. However, once a consensus has been made (from knowledgeable parties which can and sometimes do include the public) then it should be translated to the community and should there be any questions to answer, they too, should be answered with honesty and transparency. As for new leadership coming in and staling programs such as energy assistance, I think this is premature. There are many current and hard working employees at N.E.O.N who are knowledgeable in making a smooth transition without negating necessary funds to those in need. Unnecessary red tape could be eliminated by communication between new management and current employees who oversee these programs. Also, I never discredited Ms. Mann’s involvement in the community and I’m sure she has given 110%. However, she is a part of the current leadership and quite frankly, N.E.O.N. has been in the spotlight for years because of a LACK of leadership and the lack of accountability that should be enforced from the city, state, and community. Not to say this falls on any ONE person, but on the leadership as a whole. Lastly, as for Stephenson, perhaps her issues with her “degree” could have been handled privately PRIOR to N.E.O.N’s questionable leadership practices. But since all of its decision making has caused the state, city, and community to question their misappropriations of funds and other missing monies, stakeholders are more concerned than ever for the future of this organization, including myself. One way to gain the stakeholders’ trust as a new CEO is to be honest with your credentials, and if that means proving she has a degree and/or related qualifications is a start of a future and trusting relationship, then by all means get it done. After all, it’s her responsibility and she should be held accountable! I will end with this, I have nothing against Stephenson or Mann, and I truly want N.E.O.N to succeed!! However, organizations that aren’t transparent and leaders who aren’t ethical in their practices are a recipe for disaster and alienation among stakeholders. Enjoy your weekend!

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments