NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell has spent well more than $60,000 on travel in 2022, even after cancelling a planned trip to Singapore amid criticism of her appetite for faraway destinations and the growing manpower crisis at the NOPD.
The Singapore trip would have been the mayor’s third foreign excursion in five weeks, but even though she pulled the plug on that excursion, city records obtained by WWL-TV show at least six out-of-state trips by the mayor in 2022. Since the station first reported on the travel records, Cantrell has been engulfed in a series of new controversies, but she still found time recently to travel to Washington, D.C. for a meeting on Monday with a city attorney to lobby for an end to the decade-long NOPD consent decree.
The records of her earlier trips reveal a whirlwind travel schedule in which the mayor often flies first class and usually brings an entourage that includes a security detail and “social media specialist.”
Cantrell’s frequent flyer status led the City Council to draft an ordinance severely restricting travel for elected officials for “non-essential” trips, but the greatly watered down version that was unanimously adopted last week merely sets tighter controls such as quarterly travel reports and quick submission of travel costs after trips.
The travel documents obtained by WWL-TV through a public records request are incomplete, but show expenses that include airfare of $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 in the records, nor were the names of the others in 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 Mayor’s 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.
Cantrell did not address reporters – or even allow them in the same room – during an unrelated media event the day before she was set to leave for Singapore to participate in a panel discussion at the “World Cities Summit.” The next morning, the mayor appeared on WBOK with radio host and Councilman Oliver Thomas to announce she had canceled the trip in order to “embed” with the beleaguered NOPD to get feedback from officers.
Speaking in late July after the same press event in which reporters were barred, 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 said they had started to hear negative comments from constituents about the mayor’s busy travel calendar, leading to the introduction of the travel ordinance.
“I think this latest one (the canceled Singapore trip) had really seemed to turn a needle with people,” Councilman 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. “Number one, what are we getting in return for the travel? And number two, how many people need to go?
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.