EBR Mayor lifts her silence on COA issue, state investigation underway
BATON ROUGE- Following a tumultuous two weeks for the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging, the WBRZ Investigative Unit has learned the Governor's Office of Elderly Affairs has launched an investigation into the EBR Council on Aging. The East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor also weighed in today, saying she's confident the state's investigation will bring justice to all sides.
In a letter sent to EBR COA Board Chairman Brandon Dumas, the state agency wrote it considers members of the board and agency staff being involved in a deceased woman's will a conflict of interest and unethical behavior.
The state inquiry is related to reports the WBRZ Investigative Unit broke two weeks ago involving Helen Plummer's estate. Plummer, a 95-year-old and council on aging attendee, had a will drafted on her behalf naming Tasha Clark Amar, the Executive Director at the EBR Council on Aging, as the overseer of Plummer's vast estate. Clark Amar was set to make $125,000 off the assets until she and other council on aging employees and board members involved removed themselves from the will. The will was written by COA Attorney and Board Member Dorothy Jackson.
> READ the letter HERE
Legal scholars called this issue concerning.
"How many other times has this happened?" Law Professor Elizabeth Carter asked.
The state investigaton seeks a plan of action from the EBR COA Board of Directors related to everyone's involvement in the will.
The letter states the plan of action must include the following:
1. How the board will verify that Clark Amar and EBR COA employees have not been listed in any other last will and testament of any other EBR COA Client.
2. Actions the board take to remedy what the state considers were a conflict of interest, unethical behavior of EBR COA staff and board members.
3. What, if any, policies and procedures will be put in place to prevent this from happening again.
4. Why Plummer was not referred to Southeast LA Legal Services, the EBR COA contractor who provides legal assistance for elderly clients.
The Governor's Office has given the EBR COA until Monday, April 17, 2017, to respond to the request. It clearly states if no response is received, further action may be taken.
On Monday, an email was sent clarifying the intent of the state's letter. The email states it wants the board to determine if it believes a conflict of interest and/or unethical behavior existed in the matter described.
In response to a Public Records Request, the Governor's Office of Elderly Affairs listed the normal steps that are taken when an investigation is launched into a council on aging. They are as follows:
1. Contact COA board to see how it will handle this on their side and start our investigation.
2. A ruling from ethics will be requested.
3. Investigate if there is a pattern at this agency. Are there other clients?
4. Interview all parties involved.
5. A report will be drafted once the investigation is complete.
6. GOEA will present findings and recommendations to COA board. If the board fails to act, it will be presented to the LEBA (Louisiana Executive Board on Aging) which could result in a letter to the governor for removal of the board and charter.
7. Depending on what is uncovered the report could be submitted ot the Inspector General, State Police and the Attorney General.
On Wednesday, the WBRZ Investigative Unit reported the State Legislative Auditor said the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging Board broke the state's open meeting's laws this week when the board went into executive session under the auspices of discussing an impeding audit. WBRZ confirmed even if no discussions about the audit took place, a violation of the law still occurred. The board was recorded going into executive session to discuss the audit, and it was also on the public agenda.
The State Legislative Auditor said if it was realized in executive session that board members could not talk about the audit, the board would have needed to exit executive session immediately. The board then would have to have an item added to the agenda by a unanimous vote, then have a two thirds vote to go back to executive session to discuss something else.
Executive sessions can only be called under certain circumstances: personnel matters, pending litigation or security of personnel. There's no state law requiring executive sessions to be recorded, so there's no way to prove what was discussed.
The State Legislative Auditor said discussing what was discussed in executive session is considered highly improper.
Law Professor Carter said there are things that can be done to restore public trust and that may start with a change in leadership.
"Certainly when you are a board member of an entity governing millions of dollars, we expect to hold you in a higher standard," Carter said. "In many people's minds this would not be excusable."
For the first time since the mess unfolded at the Council on Aging, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President weighed in. She released the following statement:
"We, as citizens - including elected officials - should do everything in our power to ensure our elderly residents have a quality way of life. They are gems in our community. I am confident that the state's investigation will lead to justice for all parties involved. It is important to remember that all agencies serving our community, including the Council on Aging, have oversight and policies in place, implemented by their respective board of directors, that are designed to assure good governance. At the end of the day, we must ensure our seniors still receive their services."