New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell finds herself in hot water once again. In recent weeks she has faced criticism for the spike in crime in the city, threatened to cancel Mardi Gras because of a shortage of police and then had to walk it back, and now she faces a recall. Now she is refusing to reimburse city taxpayers for her extravagant travel expenses.
More specifically, she insists on flying first class or business class instead of coach. Her reason? She says that as a black woman, she is not safe sitting in coach. She was questioned about her ticket purchases at a press conference this last week.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, LaToya Cantrell said: ‘My travel accommodations are a matter of safety, not of luxury.
‘As all women know, our health and safety are often disregarded and we are left to navigate alone.
‘As the mother of a young child whom I live for, I am going to protect myself by any reasonable means in order to ensure I am there to see her grow into the strong woman I am raising her to be.
‘Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world black women walk in.’
Well, now. Do tell, Mayor Cantrell. I seem to have missed all the stories about black women being in danger in coach class. Why is it ok for her staff and security to sit in coach while she sits in first class or business, which they do? Her excuse seems a little too convenient, and frankly, fabricated, to believe. Granted, I’m a white woman who has traveled in coach class seats more often than getting upgrades to business or first class seats but I have yet to see black women being singled out for abuse or physically threatened because of the color of their skin.
The City of New Orleans has a ban on luxury travel for employees. Cantrell is refusing to reimburse the cost of her American Airlines tickets to Washington Dulles Airport to Switzerland in July. She spent about $10,000 for a flat bed seat and spent a similar amount on a first-class return to France earlier this year. Her aides traveled in coach. The mayor defends her actions by saying she’s not safe in economy class.
At yesterday’s press conference, @FOX8NOLA was the only station that asked Mayor LaToya Cantrell about whether or not she will reimburse thousands of dollars to the city for her travel upgrades.
Here’s her full statement: pic.twitter.com/swA2flFIkc
— Andrés Fuentes (@news_fuentes) September 9, 2022
Municipal employees are required to buy the lowest airfare available. The Chief Administrative Officer said that the law department is examining whether she must reimburse the city for almost $30,000 for first-class tickets to France and Switzerland. No one is questioning the mayor’s travel as a part of her job. It’s the travel expenses she is racking up that are being questioned. The legal question is if the mayor is a municipal employee or an elected official. The mayor seems to think she has special status as an elected official.
But the city’s travel policy leaves little room for maneuver: ‘Employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available…Employees who choose an upgrade from coach, economy, or business class flights are solely responsible for the difference in cost.’
The policy also states: ‘Any reconciliation of travel expenses that results in overpayment by the City requires that the employee reimburse the City within twenty business days’
The mayor’s own staff tell Fox 8 they are ‘checking’ to see if the 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 under review with law kind of determining the variations between the CAO policy, the elected official policy, and the different variations,’ Chief Administrative Officer for the city, Gilbert Montaño said.
‘There’s no ultimate conclusion at this current moment. Right now it’s in law, and we are evaluating it and I think there would be a determination sooner rather than later.’
The mayor has traveled frequently. Again, no one is questioning the travel part of this story. It’s the air fare prices. She purchases first-class tickets for herself and coach tickets for her staff and her security team.
In January, the mayor spent more than $2,300 to fly first-class to a Conference of Mayors’ meeting in Washington, DC. The rest of her entourage paid $250.
Then in March, the mayor spent more than $2,800 to fly first-class to Miami for a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering. The cost is nine times more than the $342 fare NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson pair.
Other city staffers paid $677 to take the trip according to 4WWL.
That’s about nine times the $342 NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson paid to fly economy to the same meeting. Other staffers paid $677.
Come the summer, two pricey jaunts to Europe saw Mayor Cantrell and three of her top aides spend more than $40,000 on travel to France, which she defended by drawing on the city’s heritage.
‘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 during an August press conference.
The mayor’s first-class flight cost $11,000 more than the equivalent economy class ticket purchased by her communications officer Gregory Joseph.
‘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.
One week after returning from France, the mayor was back across the pond once again, this time to Ascona, Switzerland, to sign a ‘sister city’ agreement.
Her flight cost just over $9,800 with her spending more than $11,000 on the six-day trip.
Dillard University public policy professor Robert Collins says the mayor could easily be considered a city employee though she is an elected official. ‘It’s sort of like saying the President of the United States is not an employee of the federal government. He draws a salary, of course he is,’ Collins said. He said it is problematic to draw a legal difference between an elected official and an employee of a government agency. Both draw salaries. There is no difference.
The mayor is using a racial argument to justify her expensive travel expenses. It doesn’t hold water. It’s a cynical excuse. And, her staff and security, some of whom are no doubt black, should feel insulted by her lack of concern for their safety if she truly believes what she is saying.