INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: Questions raised about lavish EBR COA trip to Chicago
BATON ROUGE- As five thousand seniors in East Baton Rouge Parish sit on a waiting list for services at the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging, the agency spent $12,000 to send five employees to Chicago for a few nights in March for a non-mandated conference.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit obtained the majority of the expenditures through a public records request. But, where the five employees ate, what they spent their money on and more were not included since the Council on Aging had no receipts to turn over. Instead, each employee received almost $70 dollars per day for a per diem.
The employees who attended the conference were: Trudy Bihm, Shanikra Barrow-Fobb, Jasmine Carter, Johnathan McGee and Charlotte Turner.
"When you look at trips that are not mandated, perhaps a trip that you could take for educational purposes, you have to weigh that against how many people you could feed," Jefferson Parish Council on Aging Director Al Robichaux said.
Jefferson Parish's Council on Aging is similar in size to East Baton Rouge Parish in terms of population, budget and the people they serve. Robichaux says currently he has about 500 people on a waiting list, and he suspended any non-essential out of state travel so he could continue to serve the people in his parish.
"For me a trip that could cost $3,500, that could feed two people per year," Robichaux said.
By his calculations, nearly a dozen people could have been removed from East Baton Rouge Parish's waiting list for the entire year had the COA not taken that trip.
Tonight, the Investigative Unit found Board Chairman Brandon Dumas signed all the checks for the trip. He resigned from the Council on Aging Board this month, after the Investigative Unit exposed he had been sitting on the Board illegally since last year, when he moved outside of East Baton Rouge Parish. State law, the Governor's Office of Elderly Affairs' guidelines, and the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging's Bylaws require that Board members must live in East Baton Rouge Parish.
"The mission of a Council on Aging is to take care of the elderly people in the community," Robichaux said. "We have to be their advocates. It's confusing to me as to what's happening in East Baton Rouge as to what our mission is."
Last week, the State Legislative Auditor found the agency violated laws using its organization to support a Political Action Committee to get their tax passed to fund the agency. After the tax was passed, Clark Amar told us in January 5,000 seniors were on a waiting list until the Council on Aging could get more money to service the seniors in need. She said the tax was vital.
The Investigative Unit has reported extensively over the past few months on COA Director Tasha Clark Amar. She recently sued the family of Helen Plummer, an elderly woman who died that she almost took money from. It happened after the Investigative Unit exposed a questionable will drafted by Board Member Dorothy Jackson. That will would have benefited Clark Amar to the tune of $120,000 over the next 20 years. Following our stories, Clark Amar backed off the will. The author of the will, Dorothy Jackson, has since been suspended from her job at the Elder Law Clinic at Southern University.
Robichaux called the actions exposed by the Investigative Unit alarming.
"I would not participate in anything like that even if I knew who the person personally even if they were a friend of mine," Robichaux said. "I would refer them. We all have contracts for pro bono work for our elderly."
Right now, a number of COA Directors are gathered in Baton Rouge for their annual conference. It's a conference that goes over state happenings and last year they even conducted ethics training. Almost all of the 64 Council on Aging Directors across the state are signed up to participate. Tasha Clark Amar did not sign up even though this conference is in her own backyard.
The Investigative Unit requested an interview with Clark Amar about this story through two of her attorneys. She refused.