Embattled New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Tuesday she’ll pay the city back for nearly $30,000 worth of first-class plane tickets to Europe — a sudden U-turn that came after a city council member threatened to take action to claw the cash back.
The Democrat had previously resisted paying the money back, saying the luxury flight upgrades on trips to Switzerland and France were for legitimate business purposes, boosting economic development for the city.
But the city attorney and Cantrell’s own chief administrative officer have recently said the costs must be reimbursed.
And City Council President Helena Moreno said last month the council has the power to slash the mayor’s salary next year if she does not pay for the upgrades.
Cantrell, at a Tuesday groundbreaking for a YWCA facility, did not give a timeline for paying back the money, telling a reporter: “I’m not doing that. I don’t need to do that.”
She insisted that the travel upgrades were “business expenses” that were necessary for her health and well-being, noting the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also cited security concerns.
“Based on the policy review, however, I will have to reimburse,” she conceded. “So I’m moving forward to do that.”
Her about-face came after the city attorney ruled that Cantrell is considered a city employee, and as such must follow a policy that requires all city employees to pay for any travel upgrades out of their own pocket.
Cantrell, 50, has ignited a separate controversy when it was revealed that she’s been living rent-free in a city-owned, $3,000-a-month luxury apartment in the French Quarter.
When she was asked about her use of the unit on Tuesday, the mayor defended her actions, saying that she was following the example of previous mayors.
But an investigation published last week from news station WvUE-TV accused her of potentially violating a city employee policy that reads: “Use of city property is for work-related purposes, and not personal benefit.”
A separate report Thursday from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a citizens organization dedicated to exposing public corruption, claimed Cantrell has lived in the high-end apartment for months, with another city employee apparently acting as a superintendent in the building.
It also revealed that the mayor — who earns $188,000 a year — put up privacy screens on the balcony and received packages at the address, the article said.
With Post wires