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City Council passes new travel rules after Mayor's trips overseas

The ordinance requires that all details of the travel be made available within three business days.

NEW ORLEANS — After numerous complaints this summer about the mayor's recent trips overseas, the City Council took action to hold elected leaders accountable when spending public money to travel.

Council members say it's a step to make city officials more transparent when taking trips.

Councilman Oliver Thomas had left the meeting, but Thursday afternoon all other six city council members voted ‘yea’ to adopt a new ordinance governing travel policy.

Council Vice President JP Morrell said this is a common practice when traveling on other people's money.

“I think that when you talk about spending public funds, the name of the game should always be absolute transparency,” said Morrell.

The ordinance requires that all details of the travel be made available within three business days, and all receipts be made available within 14 days after returning. He said this helps gain the public trust.

“The goal should always be to do it in the most economical and efficient way. Business travel is not vacation travel,” added Morrell.

Both Council President Helena Moreno and Councilwomen Lesli Harris both signed on to Morrell's ordinance, saying this action was long overdue.

“I think it's important to realize what are the benefits of these particular trips, whether it's a particular event, or whether it's a particular conference. What is the value of that what are you bringing back,” said Moreno.

“As someone who's worked in the private sector for many years, in a professional manner, everything, everything you do has to be accounted for,” said Harris.

A Mike Perlstein investigation uncovered that Mayor Cantrell took trips this summer to France and Switzerland to so called sister cities. Her airfare alone was more than $9,800 dollars on one trip. She was scheduled to go to Singapore, but then cancelled her trip after public pressure to deal with the escalating crime and dwindling police force.

“I was going because the city of New Orleans is on the front lines of climate change. We're looked upon for innovation, because we're doing the work in our city, and I'm asked by world leaders to be present, but because of wanting to ensure that our police officers are loved and respected and hear directly from me,” Mayor Cantrell said on July 29.

One public commenter at the council meeting wants the mayor to forgo expensive travel and use Zoom to conduct out-of-town business.

”That's the system that our mayor should use if she has any consideration of the public money being used. No, she's using it to her advantage,” he commented at the podium.

Councilman Eugene Green closed out the discussion asking that in the near future the debate continue, this time coming up with a punishment if the rules are not followed.

“What penalties are put in place if you don't abide by this,” Green said.

The legislation, originally stated it would cap "non-essential" travel expenses for city elected officials at $1,000 per trip, but that was removed earlier.

Response from Mayor Cantrell’s office:

“Today’s vote duplicates many of the policies and practices already set forth as it relates to elected officials' travel. As the chief ambassador for this City, the Mayor will continue to promote New Orleans, our history, and our culture and make the connections necessary to not only attract more visitors but to also drive more economic investments into our city as well.”

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