The City Council votes on new travel rules after the Mayor’s trips abroad

The ordinance requires all travel details to be available within three business days.

NEW ORLEANS — After numerous complaints this summer about the mayor’s recent trips abroad, the City Council has taken action to hold elected leaders accountable when they spend public money on travel.

Council members say it’s a step to make city employees more transparent when they make trips.

Councilman Oliver Thomas had walked out of the meeting, but on Thursday afternoon all six other council members voted yes to approve a new ordinance governing the travel policy.

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

“I think when we’re talking about spending public funds, the name of the game should always be absolute transparency,” Morrell said.

The ordinance requires all travel details to be available within three working days and all receipts to be available within 14 days of return. He said this helps to gain public trust.

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

Both Council President Helena Moreno and Rep. Lesli Harris both signed Morrell’s ordinance, saying this action was long overdue.

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

“As someone who has worked in the private sector for many years, in a professional way, everything, everything you do has to be held accountable,” Harris said.

An investigation by Mike Perlstein revealed that Mayor Cantrell took trips this summer to France and Switzerland to the so-called sister cities. Her airfare alone was more than $9,800 in one trip. She was scheduled to go to Singapore, but then canceled her trip after public pressure to address rising crime and a shrinking police force.

“I was going because the city of New Orleans is on the front lines of climate change. We’re being looked to for innovation because we’re doing the job in our city, and I’m being asked by world leaders to be there, but because we want to make sure our police officers are loved and respected and they’re hearing directly from me,” Mayor Cantrell said on July 29.

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

“This is the system our mayor should use if he is mindful of the public money being used. No, she uses it to her advantage,” she commented on stage.

Councilor Eugene Green closed the discussion by asking that the discussion be continued in the near future, this time with punishment if the rules are not followed.

“What are the penalties if you don’t comply with that,” Green said.

The legislation originally said it would cap “nonessential” travel expenses for elected city officials at $1,000 per trip, but that was removed earlier.

Response from Mayor Cantrell’s office:

“Today’s vote reiterates many of the policies and practices already in place regarding elected official travel. As a leading ambassador for this city, 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.” .

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