Bill would change board member selection of EBR Council on Aging

A bill filed today in the Louisiana Legislature by two Baton Rouge area lawmakers would give the mayor, Metro Council, Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Baton Rouge Area Chamber appointment authority over the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging’s board of directors.

Rep. Steve Carter says he and his co-sponsor, Rep. Franklin Foil, both Republicans, drafted the bill in response to concerns over the COA’s bookkeeping and money management that have been raised in the wake of a controversial property tax that voters approved last fall to help fund the agency. The 2.25-mill tax will generate nearly $8 million a year for the COA over the next 10 years.

“We’re mainly doing it because of the pushback we’ve gotten on the Council on Aging,” Carter says. “A number of people have talked to me about it, and I’m trying to protect and help (the council) because I believe in what they’re doing but people don’t have a lot of confidence in them.”

Carter says he hopes his bill—which would only apply to the East Baton Rouge Parish COA, not the other 28 COAs in the state—will rebuild confidence in the agency by changing the board selection process and effectively giving outside entities, including local governing authorities, oversight of board members.

The bill would shrink the COA board from 15 to 7 members. The mayors of Baton Rouge, Baker, Central and Zachary would appoint one member each, while the Metro Council, BRAC and BRAF would each appoint one of the remaining three. All board members would serve three-year terms.

Under the COA’s existing bylaws, the board’s 15 members include representatives from Baton Rouge, Baker, Central, Zachary, community organizations and nonprofit groups. But instead of being appointed, those members are nominated by a board development committee and voted on at an annual meeting by the agency’s general membership, which includes the thousands of seniors in the parish that the COA serves.

As a practical matter, the membership typically ratifies the development committee’s nominations.

The legislation, which lawmakers will take up during the regular session that begins next month, comes amid questions about the COA’s financial stability and management. As Business Report detailed earlier this year, the agency’s annual audits have regularly uncovered troubling issues that have gone seemingly unchecked or addressed for decades.

“I just think the best thing for us to do to give them some credibility—because they’ve had bad audits and bad publicity—is to restructure the board and give them an opportunity to perform,” Carter says.

The COA did not return a call seeking comment before this afternoon’s deadline. But Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, says she already has concerns about the bill, namely because it robs the general membership of its voice in the board selection process.

“It leaves the seniors out,” Smith says. “He’s left out the input that the seniors currently have.”

Smith says she doesn’t want to discuss other specifics about the bill until after conferring with other members of the delegation. But she suggests there might be room for compromise on some of the issues in the legislation.

“That’s what we’ll be talking about,” she says. “We’ll have some things to say after that.”

Neither the proposed legislation nor the existing COA bylaws address how to remove members from the board. Carter’s bill, however, would require board members to take an ethics training course either in person or online provided by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

—Stephanie Riegel

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