The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging could face a board overhaul and more oversight by the Metro Council if proposals from both state and local lawmakers are successful this spring.
Several lawmakers have become increasingly critical of Council on Aging, particularly the group's tactics this past fall to pass a dedicated property tax that will more than double the size of the agency's budget. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor is investigating those strategies.
Now, a group of state representatives and Metro Council members wants to rework aspects of the organization with a bill filed for the 2017 legislative session and a new cooperative endeavor agreement between the city-parish and the Council on Aging.
The proposals are being floated as a court hearing is scheduled Monday in litigation that accuses Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar of "unduly influencing" an elderly woman who was a client at a senior center as that woman wrote her will. The will places Amar in charge of overseeing the woman's estate, from which Amar will receive $500 a month for those duties over the next 20 years.
While two Metro Council members called for Amar's resignation over the estate allegations, supporters have rallied to her side, saying there was nothing improper in her acting as trustee.
Two Baton Rouge lawmakers are calling on Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark Ama…
Though the Council on Aging is technically a nonprofit, it's a quasi-governmental group that receives annual money from the city-parish to run its programs, including Meals on Wheels, personal caregiving and senior centers. The Council on Aging will see its budget soar from $3.2 million to $7.8 million annually with the dedicated tax, which officials say will go toward eliminating waitlists and serving more seniors in the community.
Past audits have shown the Council on Aging ending the year in major deficits, without the money available to pay for all of their services. The audits have also cited a lack of financial control in the organization.
House Bill 199 filed by Rep. Steve Carter and co-authored by fellow Baton Rouge Republicans Paula Davis and Franklin Foil would redo the makeup of the Council on Aging's governing board.
"I'm very much a proponent of the Council on Aging," Carter said. "I'm just concerned about their public image right now."
An attorney representing the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging acknowledged Wednesday that a…
Currently, members of the Council on Aging — including employees, seniors and any other adult interesting in joining who lives and pays property taxes in East Baton Rouge Parish — vote on members of the 15-member board and reaffirm them annually. The board has the power to hire and fire the executive director of the agency.
The Council's bylaws require four board members to be from the city of Baton Rouge; one member each from Baker, Central and Zachary; and two at-large members from East Baton Rouge Parish. The bylaws also ask for three members from public or private agencies that "serve the aged" as well as three members from nonprofit organizations that "represent or promote the general welfare of the aged."
Carter's bill would cut the number of board members to seven. The politicians and groups that would be given an appointee are: the mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish; the mayors of Zachary, Central and Baker; the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council; the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
In response to questions about Carter's bill, the Council on Aging released a statement defending their existing organizational structure.
"The current board structure gives the seniors a strong voice in the organization," the statement reads. "Seniors appreciate voting for their representatives on the board and thus voting for their interests. Their voice and representation at the Board level is an important element of the organization that should continue."
A recent mailer in support of a dedicated tax for the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Agi…
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, called the bill a money grab and slammed it as being hypocritical. Marcelle, who is a board member for the Council on Aging, has also defended Amar from the accusations related to the estate of the former Council client, who died in early March.
"The citizens have spoken that they want the Council on Aging to get this money," said Marcelle, who was recently voted onto the council's board. "They're not giving the citizens any credit who voted for it. How do you leave the citizens out of this conversation?"
At the Metro Council level, the Council on Aging will need to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement for City Hall to collect the tax and to give the money to the Council on Aging. Councilmen Dwight Hudson and Buddy Amoroso, both Republicans, are proposing additional responsibilities on the Council on Aging's part in order for them to receive the funding.
They propose that the Metro Council would ratify all of the Council on Aging's future board members. They are also asking that the Council on Aging give quarterly financial reports to the mayor and Metro Council; that the Council on Aging follow open meetings and public records laws; and that the Council on Aging also be bound by the Code of Governmental Ethics.
In the past, Council on Aging officials have noted they are already required to comply with meeting and records laws. In response to questions about the proposals, the council released a statement saying the agency "is committed to financial transparency and accountability and looks forward to continuing that philosophy."
Calls for oversight and investigation into the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging erupted Tue…
Hudson and Amoroso are also requesting that the Council on Aging give the Metro Council an annual budget. The Metro Council should take up their proposal April 12.
"These are really very basic, very common sense taxpayer protections," Hudson said. "They're not controversial."
Despite the Council on Aging's problems, Amoroso said he would not want to go against the will of the people by not allowing the tax to go forward. Instead, he said he would rather see the Council on Aging clean up its act.
The Metro Council is also expected to vote April 12 on whether to use $1.3 million they received from the Hurricanes Gustav/Ike Disaster Recovery Program to renovate a property on Main Street for the Council on Aging to use as its headquarters.
The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging is creating a new group to help guide how it will spen…