NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans City Attorney has stated that the mayor is an employee of the city of New Orleans and therefore the city's travel policies apply to her.
According to the memorandum written by City Attorney Donesia Turner, the city's home rule charter and the Louisiana code of ethics both state that New Orleans' elected officials are employees of the City of New Orleans.
The city’s travel policy states, “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.”
Turner's memorandum is not a legal ruling.
It also states that the travel policy set by the CAO must be followed by all offices, including the Office of the Mayor.
Mayor Cantrell has refused to pay the city roughly $30,000 she charged this year to upgrade her city air travel to business and first class.
Earlier this month, Cantrell said that all expenses she incurred while doing business on behalf of the city do not need to be reimbursed.
In March, the mayor spent more than $2,800 to fly first-class to Miami for a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering. That’s about nine times the $342 NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson paid to fly economy to the same meeting. Other staffers paid $677.
City Councilmembers have threatened to dock the mayor's pay for next year by $30,000 as a way to force her to pay those travel expenses.
On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Cantrell called that idea "dangerous."
“It gets pretty dangerous when you’re talking about someone’s revenue or wages they get from doing their job,” she said. “As it relates to the travel expense, nothing aligned with being luxury at all, but aligned with my health and well-being.”
Cantrell briefly said that her travel practices were now reverting to what they were pre-COVID-19, though she didn’t elaborate as to what that means or if she was implying that her travel choices were made over concern about COVID-19.
She also said that her travels brought the city back much more in revenue than they cost.
“While I know (the media) is focused on the ($30,000), which I don’t agree with that amount… when you think about the return on investment – hundreds of millions of dollars that we’re now talking about because that is real – that justifies the work being done," she said.