After Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s foreign trips, City Council adopts new travel rules

The mayor and other senior New Orleans officials may still be able to use taxpayer dollars to travel abroad under a new City Council ordinance. But now they will have to spit out the receipts.

Council on Thursday unanimously approved new rules that will require quarterly travel reports from City Hall and set deadlines for how quickly officials produce detailed cost information.

The order, which was originally filed in response to a series of foreign trips made by Mayor LaToya Cantrell in recent months, dropped an earlier proposal by Council Vice Chairman JP Morrell to cap travel ” non-essential” at $1,000, which would likely have stopped all overseas travel. Morrell said the change came in response to community feedback.

“The main concern I had speaking with individuals, especially from the community, our constituency, was transparency,” Morrell said.

A well stamped passport

In June and July, Cantrell and other city officials traveled to France and Switzerland to sign symbolic “sister city” agreements. Even before those trips, the mayor had spent nearly $80,000 this year on trips for herself and her top aides.

The visits to Europe have come amid heated debate over how to deal with the city’s spike in violent crime and other ills like spotty garbage collection and slow road repairs. Critics accused the mayor of giving up her post at the city’s expense.

The howls escalated when Cantrell announced — and then quickly canceled — a trip to Singapore for a climate change conference.

Cantrell has championed his travels as a tool for economic development and spreading the city’s culture.

“When I go there, I reinvest in people who are commercialized, and I don’t apologize at all,” Cantrell said at a town hall on Tuesday.

Even before the trip to Singapore was made public, Morrell and Council President Helena Moreno introduced an order that would have capped “non-essential” travel by elected officials in the city at $1,000 per person.

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Under the final order, there is no specific monetary limit. Instead, the city’s chief executive and city council chief of staff should develop travel policies for elected and unelected officials. The ordinance also applies to council members.

Airline tickets and hotel bills must be disclosed in response to public records requests within three days, and all receipts within 14 business days. After Cantrell’s trip to the French Riviera, the city was slow to produce details of the expenses.

The city must also produce a quarterly travel report.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the new ordinance would not change much.

“Today’s vote duplicates many of the policies and practices already set out with respect to travel for elected officials,” said John Lawson. “As this city’s chief ambassador, the Mayor will continue to promote New Orleans, our history and our culture, and make the necessary connections to not only attract more visitors, but also to generate more economic investment in our city.”

The order drew ‘pushback’

Moreno credited Morrell for carrying Ordinance into the end zone — beyond an unnamed defense.

“I know it hasn’t been easy, you’ve definitely had a big setback,” she said. “I was happy to be with you on this because I think it’s important and something that’s long overdue.”

While the mayor’s trips have drawn hecklers on social media, District E council member Oliver Thomas wished him ‘bon voyage’ in July, adding: ‘Just bring back a Sister City deal, an economic relationship and some ideas and things we can do better here!!!”

Thomas was the only council member absent when the travel ordinance passed 6-0. He said earlier that he had to leave to speak at a youth graduation event.

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