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

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A New Orleans city policy says traveling government employees are required to seek the lowest fares available or reimburse the city for luxury accommodations.

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

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

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

“You’re talking about France, which is where we came from, which means 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 news conference defending her spending.

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

“I do business class travel, absolutely. I need to protect. … I need to be safe while 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 more than $11,000 on the six-day trip.

“If she says she should be safe on the plane, why isn’t she seated next to her safety in economy?” asked Rafael Goyeneche, with the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

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

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

“If the law says that the mayor must reimburse the city, she must. No one should be above the law,” said Batiste.

“It’s just kind of lumped in 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 shy away from, but if they do, they usually cover the cost themselves or pay through their campaign fund accounts.

We reached out to the city’s communications office for comment on the potential refund, but have not heard back.

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