Will Mayor Cantrell reimburse city coffers for first-class travel upgrades?

Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 5:06 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A New Orleans city policy states that traveling government employees are required to seek the lowest fares available or reimburse the city for deluxe accommodations.

The policy says “employees who choose an upgrade from coach, economy or business class flights are solely responsible for the difference in cost.”

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Gilbert Montano, says he has not talked yet with Mayor LaToya Cantrell about plans to reimburse taxpayer money for her first-class upgrades.

Back in June, Mayor Cantrell and three of her top aides spent more than $40,000 to travel to France.

“You’re talking about France, from which we’ve come, meaning part of the fabric of the City Of New Orleans. You’re talking about France, that has an ambassador living in the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said in a press conference defending her expenses.

The mayor’s first-class flight cost $11,000 more than the economy class ticket purchased by her communications officer Gregory Joseph, a difference that the mayor said was necessary.

“I do travel business class, absolutely. I need to be protected. ... I need to be safe as I do business on behalf of the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said.

About a week after she returned 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 more than $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 security in economy?” asked Rafael Goyeneche, with the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

“It doesn’t send a good message. I don’t think she should be doing it,” said Belden Batiste, one of the organizers of a petition to recall the mayor.

Belden says along with crime and late payments to residents of Gordon Plaza, travel expenses are just one of many issues that concern voters. His effort to recall Mayor Cantrell has collected 3,000 of the 53,000 signatures required by Feb. 22.

“If the law says the mayor should reimburse the city she should. Nobody should be above the law,” said Batiste.

“It’s just sort of piling on with all the other controversies fueling the fire of recall right now,” said Dillard political analyst Dr. Robert Collins.

Collins says first-class travel is something most politicians stay away from, but if they do it, they normally cover the cost themselves, or pay through their campaign fund accounts

We reached out to the mayor’s office of communications for comment on possible reimbursement, but have not heard back.

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