The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging will be in the spotlight again at this evening’s Metro Council meeting when the panel will decide whether to approve spending $1.3 million in federal funds to finish renovating a building that will serve as the COA’s new headquarters.
The move to get the COA a new home stems from former Mayor Kip Holden’s administration, when the city-parish obtained the building several years ago and has since done piecemeal work to renovate it. The building has a new roof, but Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s office is asking the Metro Council to approve spending Community Development Block Grant funds from hurricanes Gustav and Ike to finish the work.
The COA will move all its services and offices from its current location on Florida Boulevard to the new building at 1701 Main St. if the city-parish moves forward, COA spokeswoman Anita Byrne says in an email. A cooperative endeavor agreement between the COA and city-parish that will determine what, if any, rent the COA will pay is being finalized, Byrne adds. The COA stays rent free in its current building at 6955 Florida Blvd.
Council members are already lining up on opposite sides of the issue. At a council meeting earlier this month, a debate over whether to levy a tax voters approved last year for the COA ended when Democratic council members walked out of the meeting. The measure was delayed for 60 days, and most other items on the agenda will be taken up at this afternoon’s meeting.
“I guess this will bring the Council on Aging back into the public light for discussion,” says Republican Councilman Buddy Amoroso, an outspoken critic of the COA. “In good conscience I cannot right now appropriate any money to help them. I would like to see some wholesale changes be made.”
Broome’s office did not respond to a request for comment before this afternoon’s publication.
The COA has faced questions over its management and allegedly improper campaign practices amid controversies that have surfaced since last fall. An investigation from the Legislative Auditor’s Office into the COA’s practices is expected to be released soon, and Republicans on the council successfully delayed an agreement between the city-parish and COA earlier this month to implement a 2.25-mill property tax voters approved in November.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks, a Democrat and vocal supporter of the COA and its executive director, Tasha Clark-Amar, says the debates over the agency’s management and campaign tactics should be separate from the plan to get seniors into a new building.
“The agency needs a building to be able to perform the duties and mandates and carry out its agenda, its goals. I don’t see why that would change at all,” Banks says. “The elderly needs it. The agency needs it.”
Banks at the council meeting earlier this month brought Clark-Amar to the podium and cited scripture while praising the nonprofit director. Clark-Amar is also the subject of a controversy over whether she should have accepted $500 per month over the next 20 years for serving as the overseer of a deceased COA client’s will. Clark-Amar served the woman, Helen Plummer, at the COA before Plummer died. Clark-Amar has since stepped down as executrix of the will.
Former Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel previously told Daily Report the COA’s current headquarters on Florida Boulevard in Mid City is riddled with problems like dysfunctional elevators and unreliable air conditioning. Banks says she interned at the same building while in college in the early 1980s, and it was aging and in need of repairs then.
“I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t want the seniors to have an adequate facility,” she says.
The Metro Council at today’s meeting will also consider spending $2.25 million to give every Baton Rouge Police Department officer a body camera, a move that Broome and BRPD have agreed on. The council also will take up an agreement that would give Baton Rouge access to $11 million in flood recovery dollars. That money is separate from the $1.6 billion the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is giving to the state.
The council meets at 4 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall at 222 St. Louis St. See the full agenda.