Tasha Clark Amar has wasted no time making her presence felt as the new head of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.

Since taking over as executive director July 1, Amar, 42, has embarked on a top-to-bottom reorganization of the nonprofit agency.

Faced with a $220,000 budget deficit for this fiscal year, she moved to slash the agency’s payroll. She said she is reviewing vendor contracts in an effort to further cut costs, and has hired a grants coordinator to help develop new revenue sources.

Meanwhile, Amar rolled up her sleeves and worked alongside agency staff members to clean up cluttered offices and paint the walls at the nonprofit agency’s Florida Boulevard headquarters.

So far, COA board members and others say they like what they see.

COA Board Chairman Ernest Stephens said morale is up at the agency’s headquarters and more seniors are walking around with smiles on their faces these days.

“The overall atmosphere has changed,” Stephens said. “I’m very pleased.”

Roger Pippin, who was elected to serve on the board at the COA’s annual meeting last month, also said he’s impressed.

“She’s making the right moves,” Pippin said. “I’m hearing the right words. I’m very encouraged.”

Pippin, a member of the COA’s board from 2004 to 2008, said he was not a fan of the previous director, Johnny Dykes.

“I’m very glad that he is not there,” Pippin said.

The COA voted to fire Dykes at a stormy meeting on May 24. He has since filed suit in 19th Judicial District Court challenging his dismissal.

Dykes claims he was illegally removed because he received no advance notice, and his proposed firing was not on the board’s agenda.

The nonprofit COA, which Amar said has an annual budget of $3.5 million, is a lifeline for some seniors in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The COA gets federal, state and local tax money to help seniors lead independent and active lives. Its programs include Meals on Wheels for the homebound, the Senior Olympics and social activities at senior centers.

Amar comes to the COA from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, where she’s been director since 2009.

Her previous positions include serving as director of advocacy for Habitat for Humanity and grant writing and regulatory positions in state government.

Amar said she wants to put the turmoil of Dykes’ ouster behind the agency.

“The staff and the seniors are the ones suffering from the turmoil,” she said. “We need to get past those issues and move this agency in a positive direction for everybody.”

Amar said she had to move swiftly with staff cuts after taking over because the agency

was facing a $220,000 deficit for this fiscal year, which began July 1.

Eighteen people were laid off and two were dismissed from a full- and part-time staff of 82, Amar said.

“Every department was touched, including administration, all the way down to drivers,” she said.

Amar said she found from a review of personnel files that in some cases, two people were doing jobs that could have been handled by one.

“The organization was running almost like a quasi-dictatorship, very micro-managed, and somewhat top-heavy,” Amar said. “The services weren’t trickling down to the seniors.”

Dykes defended his records as director, saying he was “not a micromanager type of person.”

He said he did the best job he could within the constraints imposed upon him by the COA’s board and served the senior population well.

Amar has hired Bayard Management Group, a consulting firm headed by James A. Gilmore Jr., to help guide the reorganization of COA.

The firm, which gave a detailed presentation to the COA’s board at its last meeting, is being paid $15,000 for its work, Amar said.

She said she is looking at all aspects of the COA’s operations as she seeks to make improvements.

Amar said one of the main complaints she’s heard from seniors she’s visited at senior citizen centers around the parish concerns the quality and taste of food served at the centers, or delivered to homes through the Meals on Wheels program.

“You know something’s wrong if somebody sends back free food,” Amar said.

She said she’s reviewing the COA’s deal with a vendor that has the food contract.

Amar said she is looking at various options, including possibly reopening the COA’s kitchen and having meals prepared there.

She’s also planning to hold a garage sale at the agency’s headquarters later this month to get rid of surplus office furniture and other items. The money raised will be plowed back into programs for seniors, she said.

Amar said the agency has received a lot of donated items down through the years, some still gathering dust and clogging rooms that could be used for senior activities.

“I discovered we had nine pianos in this one building,” she said. “You don’t need that many — unless you’re going to start an orchestra.”