Legislative auditor wraps up one investigation into the Council on Aging, may start another

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera says he will meet with staff attorneys today to discuss the latest controversy surrounding the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging and its embattled director, Tasha Clark-Amar.

Though it’s too soon to say whether his office will formally launch an investigation into allegations that surfaced recently in a lawsuit, Purpera says it’s a possibility.

“If an employee of the Council on Aging does something for one of the clients but is doing it to benefit herself personally, is that a problem?” Purpera says. “We’ll have to look at whether that is something we should dig into a little deeper.”

The issue in question surrounds the will of a 95-year-old woman and COA client, Helen Plummer, who recently died. Clark-Amar and COA board member Dorothy Jackson were involved in drafting Plummer’s will last summer. Clark-Amar is named as executor of the will and trustee of Plummer’s estate, a service for which she is to be paid $500 per month for the next 20 years, or more than $120,000, according to the will. Some of Plummer’s family members say she was not of sound mind when the will was drafted, and are accusing Clark-Amar and Jackson of coercing her into drafting the document.

LSU Law Professor Elizabeth Carter tells Daily Report that laws on the subject “are not as strong as they should be … and that nothing expressly prohibits Clark-Amar from being an executor or a trustee.”

But Carter says the situation “certainly doesn’t pass the sniff test. It looks bad.”

Purpera does not disagree, but says he’ll have to meet with his staff before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation.

“State ethics law says you can’t receive anything of value for doing your job,” he says. “So the question is, what is Clark-Amar’s job within the COA? And does (serving as executor of the will and trustee of the estate) fall within that job?”

The COA’s bylaws include an ethics clause that would seem to suggest Clark-Amar’s involvement in the Plummer estate could be a conflict of interest, though it isn’t clear. The bylaws state that, “All board members shall avoid conflicts between their personal interests and the interests of the Council.”  

However, the bylaws go on to define conflicts of interest as situations where a board member “is involved in a Council decision or action regarding an entity in which the member or a member of his/her family has a financial interest, is an employee, is a director or is a consultant.”

The Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, which has limited oversight of the COA, declines to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, Purpera says his office has just completed a separate investigation of the COA and questionable tactics it engaged in during last fall’s campaign for a dedicated 2.25-mil property tax that is expected to generate about $8 million a year for the agency over the next decade. Purpera says the audit, which it launched last December, will contain few surprises but will support facts already brought to light in recent media reports, namely that the COA was involved in the tax campaign in violation of its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.

Purpera says his office will deliver the audit to the COA this week. Once agency management has had an opportunity to respond to the findings, his office will release the audit to the public.

“We will do what we always do—suggests ways to fix the problem and make recommendations on policies, procedures to help them avoid making the same mistakes again.”

Read a recent Business Report cover story on the COA.

—Stephanie Riegel

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