We now have confirmation that blatant criminality was committed by East Baton Rouge Council On Aging director Tasha Clark Amar last fall when an improbable and ridiculous $8 million tax was narrowly passed to more than double that agency’s budget.
The results of the long-awaited Legislative Auditor’s office report are in, and they’re damning.
The East Baton Rouge Council On Aging used public funds and resources throughout much of 2016 to campaign for a dedicated property tax—an apparent violation of state and federal law that could jeopardize the nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status, according to a long-awaited Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report released this morning.
The audit details several potential violations of state and federal election law by COA management and staff in the months leading up to the Nov. 8 election for the 10-year, 2.25-mill property tax, which voters narrowly approved and is estimated to generate nearly $8 million a year for the COA.
Though many of the violations have been previously alleged and reported on, the audit is the first official confirmation from a governmental entity that the COA engaged in apparent wrongdoing, whether intentional or not.
Among the findings, the audit says:
- COA management and staff spent work hours and used work-related resources such as email accounts to operate the Support Our Seniors political action committee, which campaigned for the tax.
- Nearly $25,000 in revenues from political ads placed in the COA’s quarterly magazine were donated to the PAC.
- The COA used the agency credit card to pay for some $15,000 of the PAC’s campaign expenses.
Additionally, the audit says the COA used its U.S. Postal Service nonprofit postage permit to mail more than 34,000 pieces of mail for the PAC at a discounted rate. The COA has previously acknowledged this was a mistake and has reimbursed the U.S Postal Service some $1,450. The audit found the discount actually came to nearly $3,700.
The East Baton Rouge Council On Aging is going to hold a press conference at 11:30, called by board member C. Denise Marcelle, who is also a state representative and seems to turn up like a bad penny every time thuggery, illegality and local politics mix, to discuss the findings. The COA’s attorney Murphy Foster says they broke the law basically because they didn’t know what they were doing and specifically what’s allowable and what isn’t. It used to be that ignorance of the law wasn’t much of a defense – if you’re going to start a PAC to push for tax dollars to support your quasi-governmental agency’s funding, you wouldn’t think you could get very far muttering “Oh, we didn’t know.” What does Murphy Foster do for his retainer from the COA? Make coffee? Isn’t he employed to advise COA employees not to break the law?
What would be nice is if another press conference or two were called – like one called by Gov. John Bel Edwards announcing he was pulling the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging’s charter and setting out to immediately replace it with a new organization. Or one called by the seven majority members of the Baton Rouge Metro Council announcing that as far as they’re concerned the election last fall to pass that tax was fraudulent, and that they refuse to vote to levy the tax until everyone on the COA board and its current management are all gone.
We might also have a press conference by Attorney General Jeff Landry, who damn sure ought to get involved in this case now that we know the East Baton Rouge Council On Aging broke election law and that Amar commingled funds between the agency and the PAC. It’s time to prosecute these crooks and clean out that rat’s nest.
The entire audit report can be found here.