NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — A city of New Orleans policy states that traveling government employees are required to seek the lowest rates available or reimburse the city for luxury accommodations.
The policy states that “employees choosing an upgrade from an economy or business class flight are solely responsible for the difference in cost.”
City Manager Gilbert Montano says he has yet to speak with Mayor LaToya Cantrell about plans to repay taxpayers’ money for his first-class upgrades.
In June, Mayor Cantrell and three of his top aides spent more than $40,000 to travel to France.
“You’re talking about France where we come from, which means part of the fabric of the city of New Orleans, you’re talking about France having an ambassador living in the city of New Orleans,” said Cantrell at a press conference defending his expenses.
The mayor’s first-class flight cost $11,000 more than the economy-class ticket purchased by his communications agent Gregory Joseph, a difference the mayor said was necessary.
“I fly business class, absolutely. I need to be protected…I need to be safe because I’m doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said.
About a week after returning from France, Mayor Cantrell traveled to Ascona, Switzerland, for another signing of a “sister city” agreement. Her flight there cost just over $9,800 and she spent over $11,000 on the six-day trip.
“If she says she needs to be safe on the plane, why isn’t she sitting next to her economy class safety?” asked Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
“It doesn’t send a good message. I don’t think she should,” said Belden Batiste, one of the organizers of a petition to recall the mayor.
According to Belden, along with crime and late payments to Gordon Plaza residents, travel expenses are just one of many issues that voters are concerned about. His effort to recall Mayor Cantrell garnered 3,000 of the 53,000 signatures required by February 22.
“If the law says the mayor has to reimburse the city, she has to. No one should be above the law,” Batiste said.
“It’s just sort of stacked with all the other controversies that are fueling the recall fire right now,” said Dillard’s political analyst Dr. Robert Collins.
Collins says first-class travel is something most politicians avoid, but if they do they normally cover the cost themselves or pay through their campaign fund accounts
We contacted the mayor’s communications office for comment on a possible refund, but did not hear back.
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