A bill that would change the way members are named to the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging board of directors isn’t sitting well with state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle.
Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, says if lawmakers want to alter the COA’s board composition they should change the makeup of all the boards overseeing nongovernmental organizations that receive city-parish revenues.
“If they want to go down that road, then let’s go down it all the way,” says Marcelle, who also serves on the COA’s board of directors. “Let’s redo the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s board, or the Baton Rouge Area Foundation board. Let’s go down the list.”
The bill that has rankled Marcelle, sponsored by Republican Reps. Steve Carter and Franklin Foil, seeks to bring greater accountability to the COA board. It would shrink the board from 15 to seven members. The mayors of Baton Rouge, Baker, Central and Zachary would each appoint one member, who would serve at the pleasure of the mayor. The Metro Council, BRAC and BRAF would also each appoint one member, who would serve three-year terms.
Under the COA’s existing bylaws, the board has 15 members, including representatives from Baton Rouge, Baker, Central and Zachary, as well as from various community organizations and nonprofits. The members are nominated by a board committee and voted on at an annual meeting by the agency’s general membership, which includes the seniors in the parish served by the COA.
“It is my intent to kill this bill,” Marcelle says. “But if they want the bill to go, let’s let the bill apply to everyone. Let’s not just pick on the Council on Aging. Why do you want to pick this one agency?”
Carter says his bill is intended to restore credibility to the COA, which has come under scrutiny since voters last fall passed a dedicated 2.25-mill property tax that will generate nearly $8 million annually for the COA. Critics questioned the way COA resources were used to campaign for the tax, and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor is conducting an investigation into the matter. A Business Report cover story published in January, meanwhile, detailed years of financial mismanagement and sloppy bookkeeping at the agency.
Marcelle says the criticism is unwarranted. She claims the COA has been plagued by deficits and related financial problems because it has never had an adequate revenue stream until now.
“Audit after audit, they keep carrying over debt from the year before, that’s the problem,” Marcelle says. “But no one has ever said they’re not providing 100,000 meals a year. No one has ever disputed that they are taking care of seniors.”
Carter has said he does not dispute the needed services the COA provides in the community, but that he is trying to bring greater transparency to the board of a nongovernmental organization that receives public dollars and has little oversight or accountability.