NEW ORLEANS — A defiant New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell is refusing to pay the city roughly $29,000 she charged this year to upgrade her city air travel to business and first-class.
“All expenses incurred doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans will not be reimbursed to the city of New Orleans,” she said Thursday at an event in Algiers. “One thing is clear: I do my job, and I will continue to do it with distinction and integrity every step of the way. That’s what I have to say on that.”
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.”
The policy also states “Any reconciliation of travel expenses that results in overpayment by the City requires that the employee reimburse the City within twenty business days”
“The policy of the city of New Orleans says employees, if they decide to fly first-class as opposed to the lower fare, they have to reimburse the city,” New Orleans attorney and legal analyst Tim Meche said.
The mayor listed the city of New Orleans as her employer on her financial disclosure form.
But Meche says that doesn’t necessarily make her a city employee subject to the travel policy.
“Under my research, I don’t think she is. The issue is traditionally what have mayors of municipalities been considered and in just about all the circumstances they’re not considered to be employees.”
City Council President Helena Moreno is now seeking legal opinions from both the city attorney and the council’s attorney as to whether the travel policy applies to the mayor and if so, whether she needs to reimburse the city for her travel upgrades.
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.
In January, the mayor spent more than $2,300 to fly first-class to a Conference of Mayors’ meeting in Washington, DC. The rest of her entourage paid $250.
The mayor has now racked up more than $29,000 in extra airfare.