NEW ORLEANS — *Editor's note: Mayor Cantrell apparently has cancelled her trip to Singapore. She talked about that decision on WBOK radio Friday morning.
Amid criticism of her appetite for faraway travel, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is preparing to fly to Singapore at the end of the month to speak at the bi-annual World Cities Summit.
The trip will be the mayor’s third foreign excursion in the past five weeks, and at least her sixth out-of-state trip in 2022, according to city records obtained by WWL-TV.
Her upcoming Singapore trip, in which Cantrell is the lone U.S. mayor billed as a speaker, continues a whirlwind travel schedule in which the mayor often flies first class and usually brings an entourage that includes a security detail.
The travel documents obtained by WWL-TV through a public records request are incomplete, but show expenses that include $9,810 for airfare alone to travel to Ascona, Switzerland to sign a “Sister City” agreement and attend a jazz festival.
Her lodging and meal expenses for that trip were not provided, nor was her travel party. But on previous out-of-state trips, Cantrell was accompanied by as many as five city employees.
For example, during her trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. in January, the city also paid for Deputy Chief of Staff Jabarie Walker, Intergovernmental Relations Director Arthur Walton, former Director of Strategic Initiatives Joshua Cox, Executive Counsel Clifton Davis and, for protection, Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Vappie.
Records for Cantrell’s trip to Switzerland were incomplete and did not show the full cost, but she was accompanied by Kristy Johnson for “executive protection," and Security Social Media Raven Frederick, who posted a variety of colorful videos on Instagram of the mayor at various cultural events.
While Cantrell would not address reporters – or even allow them in the same room – during an unrelated media event Thursday, Communications Director Gregory Joseph defended the mayor’s frequent flyer habits.
“It doesn't matter where the mayor is, whether she's here or whether she's on an international trip bringing the culture of the city and all the genius that we have to other parts of the world, we're always focused on doing the job of the mayor of the city of New Orleans,” Joseph said. “When she travels, when she takes the city with her, she's going on city taxpayer funding. And it's very important for her to be doing these jobs.”
But City Council members say they are beginning to hear negative feedback from constituents about the mayor’s busy travel calendar, and Council President Helena Moreno and Vice-President J.P. Morrell have introduced an ordinance that would limit travel for elected officials to $1,000 per person for all “nonessential” trips. The proposal is scheduled for vote on Aug. 4.
“I think this latest one had really seemed to turn a needle with people,” Council member Joe Giarrusso said. “There was concern about these earlier trips, but now that you've had three in a month overseas, people want leaders who understand what's going on, who can explain what’s happening, and also are available.”
“As we are getting heat on these quality of life issues…we need people who are around to address them,” Giarrusso said.
He said the council has legitimate questions about whether the city is getting its bang for the buck given the steep expense of the mayor’s frequent foreign travel.
“Number one, what are we getting in return for the travel? And number two, how many people need to go?” Giarrusso asked