Full statement released by Tasha Clark-Amar the Executive Director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging.
“ I Have Earned My Success Based on Service to Others, Not at The Expense of Others”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
I have decided to make my own official statement, that will be shared on multiple media outlets as an attempt to prevent the distortion and dilution of my words.
I eagerly took the helm of the East Baton Rouge Council On Aging in July 2011, fully aware of the monumental task I was facing due to the agency’s fiscal state and its unstable history. I was empowered and elated to have the coveted opportunity to serve and assist the most valued assets of our community, the senior citizens of EBR Parish. I had been equipped with the teachings of my parents – Aging is not “lost youth” but a new stage of opportunity and strength (Betty Freiden) and I was hell-bent on strengthening the seniors and improving their plight holistically.
The first weeks of my tenure proved to me that I had began an eye-opening undertaking of exponential extremes. The agency had a deficit in excess of $600k, a defunct inactive line of credit, no cash on hand, a bloated workforce, dismal seniors attendance at senior centers, the meals being served weren’t good, staff moral was low, and the burden of making payroll with out adequate resources was looming. The staff and I, with the advice of consultants created a strategic plan to right the ship. We immediately streamlined the workforce reducing it from 120 to 62 full-time employees. Several roles were combined to decrease cost while driving to simultaneously increase operation efficiency and effectiveness.. All remaining staff members, myself included, took a 5% reduction in pay as well as the elimination of some Holiday Pay and reduction in the accumulation of vacation and sick leave. The individual who served as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Board at the time, accompanied me to the bank with the intentions to request financial assistance on behalf of the agency to meet the looming payroll that we were facing only to discover we had defaulted on a prior loan that would have to be resolved first. I made the conscious decision not to allow the staff to suffer early in my tenure as Executive Director and I utilized my families personal credit for a $50k line of credit to ensure that payroll would be met. There have been instances when Board Members have made the same type of personal investments into this agency all for the benefit of our beloved seniors.
The staff, board members, seniors and our relentless group of supporters have worked tirelessly over the past six years to reduce the deficit while increasing revenue simultaneously. We decreased the employer percentage of the employee health insurance benefits package by 12%. The creation of a Resource Development Department and fundraising arm went to work rebranding the agency, writing and raising funds with a multifaceted approach, while every year being responsible for raising their own salaries and benefits not to put further undue burden on the budget. An Employee Giving Campaign was created, even during times of cuts, reductions and struggles our employees, who earn $9 an hour, managed to give back nearly $13k per year to benefit the mission of caring for seniors. The Board of Directors, in fulfillment of their annual commitment the agency, collectively raised $18k with their Get, Give or Get Off Initiative combined with the Taste of Baton Rouge Fundraiser. Then Board Chairman, Johnny Anderson sold Gumbo Dinners at his home for donations to raise money, we raffled several cars, sold ads in the seniors “Polished” Magazine, sold Concert tickets, conducted Charitable Gaming, held Music Festivals, and the list goes on.
The agency was rebranded and rebirthed with a vibrant fresh new look, Seniors and the community began to notice. We reopened the kitchen and began making fresh hot meals that were edible. The newly prepared in house meals began to be delivered to Meals On Wheels clients. We created and revived the programs and activities in the senior centers, we went from having 14 seniors in some centers on any given day to currently having a125 or more on some days. The demand for services began to grow exponentially some programs experienced requests increased exceeding 26%. Our waiting lists have continued to grow daily with seniors demanding assistance that are fiscally unable to provide. Even as we were serving more, there was a conscious effort to reduce the deficit with some success but nearly not enough to meet the pace of growth and demand.
Collectively, but at the behest of the Senior Advisory Board which, if I may say had been making this request for 8 years, the Board of Directors and Administration broached and opined that we had reached the fork in the road and we would venture into the world of dedicated millages and property taxes. I had been researching and doing my due diligence with my counterparts across the state about best practices and pitfalls. I was told by other Council On Aging directors that I would never pass a Millage in Baton Rouge even though they’ve had one for years in West Baton Rouge and Ascension Parish, our next door neighbors, has one. I was truly hesitant and skeptical about the unknowns of tax campaigns, but the sheer desire to enhance the seniors lives and the ambition to prove naysayers wrong was the driving force to take the risk. We contacted a consulting firm that we researched as passing one of the last successful major taxes in this Parish CATS. Contrary to popular belief and spewed lies, their selection had nothing to do with political party affiliation, we could care less. We simply wanted assistance with 3 issues — tax campaign fundraising, how to run a tax campaign for a non-profit agency, and to win! The staff, seniors, volunteers, and some board members, worked day and night for months as political campaign novices to bring home the victory for the seniors, and we learned great results can be achieved with small forces.
The Millage Campaign was truly one of the most difficult undertakings I’ve experienced professionally and I will never forget November 8th, the day of celebration for the seniors and reckoning for me. Election night and the days soon to follow I began to learn that I would never enjoy the sweet taste of victory or get to bask in the old adage of “job well done”. I soon realized that I was in the enemies clutch. It dawned on me that this was not about the seniors and it was much, much bigger than that, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer defeat”. (the art of war) I knew myself but who I was battling and why, was a mystery that quickly became apparent. The powers that be in this city, some of them anyway, weren’t so excited that seniors were getting services with tax money that is out of their control. I started to reflect over my new found attention, and it dawned on me over the last 5 years prior to winning this millage I’ve never seen the likes of any of these people who are now concerned with the COA. It’s not that they haven’t been invited on countless occasions to our many events, activities, fundraisers, and senior center tours but they were always unavailable the six years that I’ve been Director. I’ve racked my memory thinking long and hard and I’ve never seen Buddy Amoroso, Rolfe McCollister, Chris Alexander, Woody Jenkins, Stephanie Riegle, Bodie White, Steve Carter, Adam Knapp, Franklin Foil, Dwight Hudson, nor Paula Davis attend, participate in one COA function, including the candidates forum to introduce themselves to the seniors prior to the millage but to Adam Knapp’s credit he did meet with me after the millage to express some of his concerns regarding the campaign, not the SENIORS!! Where were these concerned people when the agency was struggling and asking for support, bleeding funds, where was all their interest then? They had no care for the daily menu at the senior centers, for the arts and crafts projects, for the lonely veterans that are wheel chair bound and depend on Meals On Wheels and Home Maker Services, for the legally blind senior who would be in the nursing home if not for us, for the seniors who only get a bath once a week because we provide it, where is the transparency and accountability in your care factor for the seniors? As time progressed and we were assisting thousands of seniors after the flood with half of our staff still not in their homes and displaced, Buddy Amoroso bogged us down with a public record request about the appliance replacement grant that we wrote. Although the grant uses non-public funds, he requested seniors names, addresses, and zip codes to introduce a speculation of biases. I have been Investigated for weeks by the Louisiana Legislative Auditors from A-Z due to uncorroborated allegations by Chris Alexander based on mere speculation. No one ever asked us a question before a investigation was called for.
Character assassination and an assault on my integrity is the order of the day. Distractions of one-sided misinformed reporting, witch hunts and unethical conflicts of interest are the order of the day only when it applies to certain people, especially me. Buddy Amoroso accused me of unethical conflicts of interest but failed to mention that one of the attorneys for the now deceased 95 year old senior, Helen Plummer’s family is a Parish Attorney that works for the Metro Council. I have been raked through the coals and the preverbal mud for assisting and caring for a 95 year old senior that lived less than 3 blocks from me. I won’t spend much time defending myself on this, I’ve assisted and cared for Mrs. Plummer, who we affectionately called “Dea”, close to 2 years, but more specifically while her best friend of 30 years Pam went through a bout of cancer. I gave her rides to and from the center so she wouldn’t have to be by herself while Pam, who was her normal ride, recovered. Other staff members provided her rides as well, when my schedule wouldn’t allow me to. I bought her groceries, I bought dinner for her, she ate dinner with my family often because she was lonely. She lived in seclusion, on the second floor of her home. She was very afraid in her home by herself because most of the time she and Pam were together until Pam became ill. In two years of living 3 blocks from Mrs. Plummer, I never saw or met her family members and she only spoke of her deceased daughter who she severely missed. The bulk of the COA seniors whose family members are active and participatory in their live, rather in town or out of town, know about me from their loved ones. I get calls, texts, FB messages, inboxes, greeting cards, etc. from allover the country and from right in Baton Rouge from Seniors family members thanking us for being in the parents lives. I have never seen these people. I never gained a penny or intended to gain a penny from Mrs. Plummer, I didn’t need to, the good Lord has blessed me with a family that if a need should arise I can depend on them for financial assistance. And just for the sake of clarity, my staff and I regularly go above and beyond the call of duty for our seniors who often times have no other help but us. We purchase shoes, clothes, we pay water bills with our own funds, board members have paid gas bills and rent deposits, roofing shingles, refrigerators, etc. because that’s what God calls upon us to do, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sister of mine, you did for me. (Mathew 25:40).
These truly have been some very difficult months, this last week has most definitely been a culmination of a barrage of shots and blows, with the most difficult being the calls for my resignation from the spokesperson. I have given considerable thought to it and reflected on the hundreds of texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, prayers and positive notes that I received. Most importantly, the seniors have been calling me saying “you better not quit and we need you”. I will not quiver, I will not quake, I will not be maligned, I will not have my character defamed and every fiber in my being will be utilized to preserve my integrity. I will continue to do the work that is before me and complete the task at hand which is making sure these resources come to fruition for the seniors of this parish.
I leave you to ponder these questions why is it that after years of struggling with uncertain budgets but now we have a Millage that BRAF and BRAC couldn’t pass one on their own, that they want a seat on our board? Now politicians want oversight and control of the seniors money that has been voted on? Isn’t it unusual that normally politicians want less government but now that the seniors have money they want more government? These are the questions we should be raising.
EBR Council on Aging