New Orleans Democratic mayor says economy class flights are dangerous for black women, while insisting she won’t refund $30,000 of taxpayers’ money blown on first class flights class to France and Switzerland.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, LaToya Cantrell said: “My travel accommodation is about safety, not luxury.”
“As all women know, our health and safety is often ignored and we have to navigate it alone.
“As the mother of a young child that I live for, I will protect myself by all reasonable means to ensure that I am there to see her grow into the strong woman I want her to be.
“Anyone who wants to wonder how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world that black women walk around in.”
She repeatedly refused to reimburse the cost of an American Airlines luxury flight from Washington Dulles airport to Switzerland for herself in July, despite the city’s ban on luxury jet travel.
Cantrell spent around $10,000 on his own flat bed seat and spent a similar amount on a first-class return to France earlier this year – while his aides traveled by coach.
Cantrell defended her purchase of luxury tickets because she was “doing business” on behalf of the city and because she believed it would not be safe for her to travel economy class.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell refuses to reimburse money spent on international business and first-class flights to France and Switzerland
While the mayor sat in first class, his team, including his security detail, sat in the car.
The chief executive revealed that the legal department is still considering whether Cantrell should reimburse nearly $30,000 in taxpayers’ money for first-class tickets to France and Switzerland.
The mayor had an extremely piquant response when she was asked by reporters on Thursday whether she was considering shelling out to replenish the city’s coffers.
“Any expenses incurred in doing business on behalf of the City of New Orleans will not be reimbursed to the City of New Orleans,” Mayor Cantrell said speaking outside the Nix Library.
‘One thing is clear; I do my job and will continue to do so with distinction and integrity every step of the way. And so, that’s what I have to say about it!
At a press conference, Cantrell explained that his purchase was a “matter of safety” rather than a matter of comfort. She also justified the extravagant expense because it was business travel.
The mayor insists that travel and luxury travel spending was necessary to improve New Orleans itself.
But the city’s travel policy leaves little wiggle room: “Employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available…Employees who choose to upgrade from Economy Class, Economy Class or in business class are solely responsible for the difference in cost”.
The policy also states: “Any reconciliation of travel expenses resulting in an overpayment by the City requires the employee to reimburse the City within twenty working days”
The mayor’s own staff tell Fox 8 that they are “checking” to see if city policy even applies to the mayor who is an elected official and not specifically hired by the city itself.
“I think that’s still being looked at with some sort of law determining the variations between CAO policy, elected official policy, and the different variations,” city manager Gilbert Montaño said.
“There is no ultimate conclusion at the moment. At the moment it is in the law, and we are evaluating it and I think there would be a decision as soon as possible.
She now owes $30,000 in upgrade fees for American Airlines first class upgrades. The city’s travel policy states, “Employees are expected to purchase the lowest airfare available…”
In January, the mayor spent more than $2,300 to travel first class to a meeting of the Conference of Mayors in Washington, DC. The rest of his entourage paid $250.
Then, in March, the mayor spent more than $2,800 to fly first class to Miami for a United States Conference of Mayors rally. The cost is nine times higher than NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson’s $342 pair.
Other city employees paid $677 to make the trip according to 4WWL.
That’s about nine times the $342 NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson paid to fly economy class to the same meeting. Other staff members paid $677.
Come summer, two expensive jaunts to Europe saw Mayor Cantrell and three of her top aides spent more than $40,000 to travel to France, something she defended citing the city’s heritage.
“You’re talking about France, where we come from, which is part of the fabric of the city of New Orleans. You’re talking about France, which has an ambassador living in the city of New Orleans,’ Cantrell said at a press conference in August.
The mayor’s first-class flight cost $11,000 more than the equivalent economy-class ticket purchased by his communications agent Gregory Joseph.
“I fly business class, absolutely. I need to be protected. … I have to be safe because I’m doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans,’ Cantrell said.
A week after returning from France, the mayor was back across the pond, this time in Ascona, Switzerland, to sign a “sister city” agreement.
Her flight cost just over $9,800 and she spent over $11,000 on the six-day trip.
Robert Collins, a professor of public policy at Dillard University, said the mayor could easily claim she is a city employee despite her elected status.
“It’s kind of like saying the President of the United States is not a federal government employee. He gets paid, of course he is,” Collins said.
“That’s like saying the governor of Louisiana is not an employee of the state government. Of course he is. He is the CEO of the state government. So to claim that there is some kind of legal difference between an elected official who receives a salary from a government agency and an employee of that government agency, I think is problematic.