INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: EBR Council on Aging board may have broken the law
BATON ROUGE – The State Legislative Auditor suspects the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging broke state open meetings laws when it met, in secret, to discuss an audit Tuesday.
The board of the council dismissed anyone who was attending the meeting – including a WBRZ news crew – as it discussed the audit in “executive session.” The audit is not going to be released by the state for a few more weeks, but the council's governing body had an advance copy to discuss.
State laws dictate what can and can't be discussed in a private, executive session. Personnel matters, pending litigation or security of personnel can be discussed privately but other discussions must happen in an open meeting.
It does not appear that having a discussion about the council's audit would have fallen in any category that required a secret meeting.
“I think they did [break laws] when they went into executive session to discuss that report,” Tom Cole, with the State's Legislative Auditor's Office said.
Attorney Jennifer Schaye, General Counsel at the auditor's office, said the agency routinely get calls from agencies about discussing reports prior to it being released. The answer is always the same, she said: It can't be done in a closed-door meeting if there's a quorum.
Because the State Legislative Auditor believes the Council on Aging board and executive director so blatantly disregarded the state's open meetings laws, it's now up to the attorney general or district attorney to enforce the law.
This month, the WBRZ Investigative Unit reported the Council on Aging's director, Tasha Clark Amar, was named by a board member as the overseer of a client's will. They backed off after a series of reports. Tuesday, none of the board members wanted to address that issue and neither did Clark Amar.
"Some changes need to be made at the way the Council on Aging conducts business," Cole said. "I think our audit report will address those changes. You always have to start from the top when you make changes to any organization. That tone at the top sets the tenor of the agencies actions."
The Legislative Auditor's Office is a fact-finding agency. It routinely turns over their investigative reports to prosecuting authorities. Each one of the board members that participated in Tuesday's meeting could be fined. The Investigative Unit reached out to both the Attorney General Jeff Landry's Office and District Attorney Hillar Moore's office. Both said they are looking into it.
At a city government meeting Wednesday, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council considered deferring city ordinances related to a new tax for the Council on Aging because of the audit. Click HERE to read more.
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