New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she will not reimburse the city for her first-class travel despite policies the city has in place requiring employees to pay the difference for an upgraded fare, due about her safety issues as a black woman and due to the Covid -19 epidemic.
“Anyone who wants to wonder how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world that black women walk around in,” Cantrell said in a recent statement to several New Orleans news outlets.
“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,” she said.
The mayor has come under fire in recent weeks for the high cost of his first-class air travel, which city officials estimate is nearly $30,000 more than the policy allows employees to spend. Cantrell has repeatedly stated that the expenses incurred were on behalf of the city.
The mayor had come under fire for failing to explain why his travel accommodations were about her safety as a black woman. She declined all requests for comment to CNN through her communications office.
However, this week she took up the issue with CNN affiliate WDSU and cited the Covid-19 outbreak as one of the reasons.
“There have been things that have changed because of Covid. First, I fly safely and my seat assignment – absolutely tied to my health and well-being. No doubt about it. On top of that, many may not know, some of the anxiety levels I have, however, Covid, I had to pivot, and I had to pivot making sure I travel safely security,” she said. . “And I have to be at my best to do it.”
Documents obtained by WDSU through a public records request show the mayor’s July flight to France to attend events to promote New Orleans totaled $17,854.57 for his airfare alone. On the same flight, Cantrell’s security manager and two other staff members traveled economy class.
Records show the total cost to the city of New Orleans for the trip to France, where it signed a sister city agreement with the resort town of Antibes, France, was more than $43,000.
WDSU’s investigation also showed that Cantrell’s trip to Switzerland in June to promote a New Orleans Jazz-Fest-like event cost the city more than $16,600 for airfare and hotel for the mayor and two staff members. The station reported that the airfare to Cantrell alone was nearly $10,000.
Although the mayor’s communications office declined to comment on the matter, it did send CNN the city’s travel policy which states that “employees are expected to purchase the lowest airfare available.” The policy also states that “employees who choose to upgrade from an economy, economy or business class flight are solely responsible for the difference in cost.”
But New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano told CNN affiliate WVUE that the mayor’s first-class plane tickets cost the city nearly $30,000 and is still considering whether the city will need to be reimbursed by the mayor.
At a recent press conference, the mayor said she would not reimburse the city.
“Any expenses incurred in doing business on behalf of the City of New Orleans will not be reimbursed to the City of New Orleans,” she said. “One thing is clear; I do my job and will continue to do so with distinction and integrity every step of the way.
Although she declined to comment to CNN, New Orleans City Council Speaker Helena Moreno tweeted in August, “I really want the mayor to be safe. So if she felt she needed security, she should have traveled economy class with him.
Robert Collins, a public policy professor at Dillard University, said the mayor violated city policy.
“She draws a salary from the city. The President of the United States is an employee of the federal government. The Governor of Louisiana is an employee of the state government. The fact that they are elected does not mean that they are not employees. We looked at the policy back and forth; there are no exceptions,” Collins said. “It’s the standard policy of every agency that I’ve been affiliated with, that I’ve been hired with, that I’ve studied.”
In response to reports questioning the mayor’s travel expenses, a spokesperson for the New Orleans City Council president said the council passed an ordinance in early August saying it was seeking ways “to reduce city spending on services and initiatives that have no immediate benefits”. to the people of New Orleans; and reducing City-funded travel costs is one way City leadership can ease the strain on City resources.
Moreno and City Council Vice President JP Morrell introduced the essential and non-essential travel ordinance for elected officials and city employees, according to the measure.
A petition to recall the mayor has been filed with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office. The petition states that the reason for the recall is “the inability to prioritize New Orleans and execute the responsibilities of the position.”
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