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Norwalk Officials: NEON's CEO Should Resign

Update, 6:27 p.m.:

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk's city leaders agree: Joe Mann , president and CEO of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, should resign.

"This is a press conference I quite honestly was hoping I was not going to have," Mayor Richard Moccia said Friday morning, before he and members of Norwalk's delegation to the state legislature laid out the reasons they think Mann, whom they respect, should step down from the private nonprofit organization that works to reduce the conditions of poverty in the greater Norwalk area.

More than $800,000 of Norwalk taxpayer money was spent in ways the city did not authorize, Moccia said, referring to the results of an audit released on Feb. 1 by the Office of the Inspector General. But, he said, the financial irregularities at the nonprofit go beyond that.

The $150,000 the agency loaned to CTE Inc., the Community Action Agency for the Greater Stamford Area, went to pay salaries there, and NEON will never get it back, Moccia said. The agency spent $31,000 on a boutique that he has heard is rarely open but has an employee who lives in an apartment over the store with the utilities paid by NEON. Many questions remain about the resignation of former financial officer Chip Anderson, Moccia said, including that he is under contract to consult with the agency for $24,000 a year.

A total of $71,000 has been charged to Mann's NEON credit card over two and a half years, Moccia said, and $8,000 charged to a gas card. He did not know whether Mann made those charges but said they are excessive.

"It goes on and on and on," Moccia said.

Answers provided by Mann and Greg Burnett, chairman of NEON's board of directors, at a news conference Thursday did not provide sufficient answers for Moccia and the state delegation.

"I think it's safe to say that there is no confidence in the direction NEON is heading. And while they provide many valuable services to this community both for early childhood, other resources, other needs, you cannot just say, 'Well, we spent the money on the kids.' That doesn't work," Moccia said. "I have a fiduciary responsibility to the city, as do my elected friends from the state. NEON also receives state funds.

"I basically feel that $800,000 was not spent the way they told us they where they going to spend it when they applied for the funds. At this time, unless something dramatic happens, I am not committed to fund any further activities of NEON other than their day camps in the summer."

Moccia was joined by state Sen. Bob Duff, a Democrat, and state Reps. Chris Perone and Bruce Morris, both Democrats, and Republican Gail Lavielle as well as Diedre Davis, a member of NEON's board of directors, and several Head Start parents.

Duff said state Rep. Larry Cafero, a Republican, would have been there but had another commitment. All the members of the delegation feel that, with regret, Mann should resign, he said. He referred to a steady "drip, drip, drip of information" since the audit was released.

Duff said the delegation had met with Mann and Burnett in the mayor's office last week, where the leaders were told that they needed to be forthright and provide answers. If they didn't, the politicians would be asking for a change in leadership.

A change must be made by the board of directors. "Frankly, if the board cannot do that then we're going to be asking for a change of the board membership as well," Duff said. "Again, this is a very difficult day for all of us, but NEON serves the community of Norwalk and beyond. ... We cannot stand by and have this agency paralyzed for the residents of this city. We have to take action and, in fact, we have taken action for the last few weeks."

Mann has been at NEON since April 2006, when he was appointed executive director. He came to Norwalk in 1958 at the age of 3, and served as a state representative representing the 140th District from January 2003 to January 2007.

Neither Mann nor Burnett have responded to a request for comment.

Original story :

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk's city leaders agree Joe Mann, president and CEO of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, should resign.

Mayor Richard Moccia and members of the state delegation met Friday morning for a "press conference they hoped they would never have to have," laying out the reasons they think Mann, whom they said they have respect, should step down.

Financial irregularities at the nonprofit go beyond the problems outlined in a recent audit released by the Office of the Inspector General, Moccia said.

The $150,000 the agency loaned to CTE Inc., the Community Action Agency for the Greater Stamford Area, went to pay salaries there, and NEON will never get it back, he said. The agency spent $31,000 on a boutique that hasn't opened but has an employee who lives in an apartment over the store, with the rent paid for by NEON, he said. There are many questions about the resignation of former financial officer Chip Anderson, Moccia said, including that he is under contract to consult with the agency at a cost of $24,000 a year.

"It goes on and on and on," Moccia said. "It's safe to say that NEON is headed in the wrong direction."

Moccia was joined by state Sen. Bob Duff and state Reps. Chris Perone, Gail Lavielle and Bruce Morris, as well as Diedre Davis, a member of NEON's board of directors, and several Head Start parents.

Duff said state Rep. Larry Cafero would have been there, but he had another commitment. All the members of the delegation feel that, with regret, Mann should resign, he said, and referred to a steady "drip, drip, drip of information" since the audit was released.

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