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New audit finds more faults with Baton Rouge Council on Aging

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

The Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs has dinged the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging for four practices revealed in a new audit, which board members reviewed Friday while they game-planned for a June 14 Metro Council meeting that’s crucial to the agency’s financial future.

Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar presented the audit to board members as she explained which policies the agency will change to comply with the recommendations of auditors and which findings she is pushing back against.

The Council on Aging has been under constant scrutiny over the past several months as questions have emerged about the legality and ethics of the agency’s campaign for a dedicated tax as well as Clark-Amar’s ability to lead the agency.

The Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs reported that it was problematic for the Council on Aging to pay travel expenses for four employees to chaperone a cruise with seniors on it. They also cited the agency for not keeping current annual evaluations for all employees, said a second party needs to review bank reconciliations and indicated that proof of delivery needs to be shown for all purchases

Clark-Amar disputes the audit finding against her agency relating to the employees’ travel for the cruise. She said the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs was only reacting to its own chiding from auditors by cracking down on travel at multiple local agencies.

Without a clear-cut travel policy in place, the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs is in the process of developing one that Council on Aging agencies statewide should receive in July, Clark-Amar said.

"We further refute this finding and ascribe that your agency share any culpability of wrongdoing that you allege this agency may have done," she wrote in her response to the auditors from the Governor’s Office of Elderly Aaffairs.

She added, "Your agency was well aware that not only did our agency take seniors on trips and utilize employees as Authorized Trip Coordinators, but you further knew we planned said trips and sent staff."

The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging spent $2,625 in 2016 on travel expenses for the four employees who chaperoned the cruise, which the auditors called "a disallowed cost" and said the employees will need to reimburse. But Clark-Amar said the employees were working the whole time they were on the cruise, with one spending most of the time in the infirmary with a sick senior.

"If I tell you, ‘You’ve got to go chaperon and supervise these seniors for five days,’ they’re not going to take their vacation to do that," Clark-Amar told board members.

As for the employee evaluations, Clark-Amar asserted that they were completed on time but that they were not in the file where auditors looked. She said they will go into employee files in the future.

From now on, Clark-Amar said, she will also sign off on bank reconciliations after her chief financial officer completes them. She said they will also comply with auditors’ requirements by ensuring all purchases have proof of delivery tickets attached to their invoices.

The Council on Aging expects to once again face significant hurdles at the June 14 Metro Council meeting when council members will again consider levying the collection of the 2.25 mills dedicated tax voters approved last November.

The effort stalled the last time it came before the Metro Council in April, with Republican Metro Council members saying they wanted to see the results of a Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s investigation before green lighting the tax.

Democrats walked out of the April 12 Metro Council meeting after the Republicans did not vote to levy the tax.

Since then, Metro Councilman Dwight Hudson has also proposed allowing voters in November 2017 to rededicate the tax more generally to senior services instead of specifically to the Council on Aging. His measure should be introduced at the June 14 meeting as well, but the Metro Council would not vote on it until July 26.

The investigation the Republicans were waiting for, released May 8, said the Council on Aging may have broken multiple laws in its 2016 quest to pass a dedicated property tax.

Council on Aging board members Friday were also particularly concerned about an agreement that the Metro Council is expected to vote on at the June 14 meeting to spend $1.3 million renovate a building on Main Street to serve as the COA’s headquarters.

Board Chairwoman Jennifer Moisant said she met recently with city-parish Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Rowdy Gaudet about the proposition, but that Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s administration is now asking the Council on Aging to pay rent on the building.

Moisant said Gaudet told her they would like the Council on Aging to pay monthly rent of between $4,500 and $5,000. Board members said they should check the market rates around the building to ensure the fairness of the rate before agreeing to it.

"I just find it interesting that now they’re asking us to pay rent now that people are complaining about this new money we’re going to get," Moisant said.

She pointed out that people are worried about the money going to seniors but that paying rent would take away from the money available for seniors.

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