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Council members walk out on controversial Council on Aging discussion
BATON ROUGE – The Metro Council failed to approve city ordinances associated with a property tax to fund the EBR Council on Aging after several members walked out of the meeting Wednesday evening.
JUST NOW: @GaryChambersJr told metro council "holding up the decision of the people is a disgrace to democracy" @WBRZ pic.twitter.com/WOBG1NhTJg— Brett Buffington (@BrettBuffington) April 12, 2017
Councilwoman Banks talking directly to COA director... pic.twitter.com/XnLoNSNgFf— Brett Buffington (@BrettBuffington) April 12, 2017
The council failed to maintain a quorum at a meeting where agenda items related to setting up an agreement between the governing, tax-collecting city-parish government and the Council on Aging itself, a semi-public agency.
The council had two items to decide – simply signing-off on the tax approved by voters late last year and setting up a cooperative endeavor agreement to manage the rights and duties of the agencies involved.
The Metro Council was discussing possibly deferring an agreement with the Council on Aging as it relates to the tax for thirty days until an audit is released about the council. Some Metro Council members wanted to delay any vote until learning more about the findings of a recently-completed audit of the Council on Aging following a series of WBRZ investigative reports on EBRCOA's director, Tasha Clark Amar.
A lengthy discussion unfolded about the tax itself as the council discussed how to handle what would usually be rubber-stamping the tax.
While discussing deferring the tax, a motion was made by one of the council members to approve said tax. After the council failed to approve it, all present democratic members of the council got up and left.
Council members Erika Green, Chauna Banks, Donna Collins-Lewis and Lamont Cole left the meeting. Without a quorum, which is the legally-required a majority of the council who must be present for council action to be valid, the meeting was forced to a close.
As a result, no decision was made in reference to deferring the tax, nor was the council able to rubber stamp the tax in question. Voting on the tax has now been deferred for 60 days due to the council losing it quorum in the walk-out.
One council member just told me, by walking out, COA millage decision has now been delayed 60 days. @WBRZ— Brett Buffington (@BrettBuffington) April 12, 2017
The EBR Council on Aging is at the center of controversy following a series of WBRZ Investigative Unit reports. Ahead of the tax itself, the council's involvement in promoting the tax was questioned. More recently, the director of the agency has found herself in a legal battle over a deceased woman's will when she was named executrix of the estate.
There is also an upcoming release of an audit by the state legislative auditor that some city lawmakers are concerned will question the Council on Aging's operations. The state auditor suggested the board of the Council on Aging may have broken state meetings laws when it discussed the audit the day before the Metro Council meeting. Click HERE to read more.
WATCH: Parish attorney explains city's involvement in tax levy
The council members that walked out of the meeting released this statement Wednesday night:
"To the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish:
It is extremely unfortunate we were placed in a position to not continue the business of City Parish Government. The integrity of the will of the people was being challenged by an attempt to prevent a millage from going forward as approved by YOU, the voters in November of 2016. We could no longer sit and allow democracy to be compromised under our watch, on this day. We will continue to stand with the people, protect the democratic process and support a free and fair election."
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