The mayor and other top New Orleans officials may still be able to use taxpayer money to travel abroad under a new City Council ordinance. But now they’ll have to cough up the evidence.
On Thursday, the council unanimously approved new rules that would require quarterly City Hall travel reports and set deadlines for how quickly officials produce detailed information on any costs.
The ordinance, originally filed in response to a series of foreign trips Mayor LaToya Cantrell has taken in recent months, rejected an earlier proposal by Council Vice President JP Morrell to cap “non-essential” trips at $1,000, which they probably would have stopped. travel abroad in total. Morrell said the change came in response to community feedback.
“The primary concern I had in talking to people, especially from the community, our constituency, was transparency,” Morrell said.
A passport with a good stamp
In June and July, Cantrell and other city officials made trips to France and Switzerland to sign symbolic “sister city” agreements. Even before those trips, the mayor had spent nearly $80,000 this year on travel for herself and her top aides.
The European visits came amid a tumultuous debate over how to tackle the city’s violent crime surge and other ills such as erratic garbage collection and slow road repairs. Critics charged that the mayor was leaving her position at the city’s expense.
The howls grew louder when Cantrell announced — and then quickly canceled — a trip to Singapore for a climate change conference.
Cantrell has championed her tours as a tool for economic development and spreading the word about the city’s culture.
“When I go, I reinvest in the people that are in the market, and I don’t apologize for that at all,” Cantrell said at a town hall Tuesday.
Even before the Singapore trip was made public, Morrell and Council President Helena Moreno introduced an ordinance that would limit “non-essential” travel for the city’s elected officials to $1,000 a pop.
According to the final order, there is no specific dollar limit. Instead, the city’s chief administrative officer and the City Council’s chief of staff must design travel policies for both elected and non-elected officials. The ordinance also applies to council members.
Airline 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 provide details on the expenses.
The city must also prepare a quarterly travel report.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said the new ordinance won’t change much.
“Today’s vote reiterates many of the policies and practices already in place regarding elected official travel,” said John Lawson. “As this city’s leading ambassador, the Mayor will continue to promote New Orleans, our history and culture, and make the necessary connections not only to attract more visitors, but also to drive more economic investment in our city. .”
The Ordinance Caused ‘Repulsion’
Moreno thanked Morrell for moving the snap into the end zone — past an unnamed defense.
“I know it hasn’t been easy, that you’ve certainly received significant pushback,” he said. “I was glad to be with you on this because I think it’s important and it’s something that’s actually long overdue.”
While the mayor’s travels have brought some snarls on social media, Ward E Councilman Oliver Thomas wished her “safe travels” in July, adding: “Just bring back a sister city agreement, a financial 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.