New Orleans mayor says flying economy unsafe for black women refuses to repay $30k of taxpayer cash

New Orleans Democrat mayor has declared economy class flights unsafe for black women, while insisting she won’t repay $30,000 of taxpayers’ money blown on first-class flights to France and Switzerland.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, LaToya Cantrell said: ‘My travel accommodations are a matter of safety, not luxury.

‘As all women know, our health and safety are often disregarded and we are left to navigate alone.

‘As the mother of a young child whom I live for, I am going to protect myself by any reasonable means in order to ensure I am there to see her grow into the strong woman I am raising her to be.

‘Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world black women walk in.’

She has repeatedly refused to repay the cost of a luxury American Airlines flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Switzerland for herself in July, despite a city ban on luxury air travel.

Cantrell spent around $10,000 on her own flat bed seat and blew a similar amount on a first-class return to France earlier this year – while her aides traveled in coach.

Cantrell has defended her purchase of the luxury tickets as she is both ‘doing business’ on behalf of the city and because she believes it wouldn’t be safe for her to travel in economy class.

The Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, is refusing to repay money spent on international business and first class flights to France and Switzerland

The Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, is refusing to repay money spent on international business and first class flights to France and Switzerland

While the mayor sat in first-class, her team, including her security detail, were seated in coach.

The Chief Administrative Officer has revealed how the law department is still examining whether Cantrell must reimburse almost $30,000 in taxpayer money for first-class tickets to France and Switzerland.

The mayor had an extremely prickly response when questioned by journalists on Thursday as to whether she was considering forking out to replenish city coffers.

‘All expenses incurred doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans will not be reimbursed to the city of New Orleans,’ Mayor Cantrell said speaking outside the Nix Library.

‘One thing is clear; I do my job and I will continue to do it with distinction and integrity every step of the way. And so, that’s what I have to say on that!’

During a press conference Cantrell explained her purchase was a 'safety issue' rather than one of comfort.  She has also justified the extravagant expense because they were business trips

During a press conference Cantrell explained her purchase was a ‘safety issue’ rather than one of comfort. She has also justified the extravagant expense because they were business trips

The mayor insists that the trips and luxury travel expenses were necessary in order to better New Orleans itself.

But the city’s travel policy leaves little room for maneuver: ‘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 mayor’s own staff told Fox 8 they are ‘checking’ to see if the city policy even applies to the mayor who is an elected official and not specifically hired by the city itself.

‘I think that’s still under review with law kind of determining the variations between the CAO policy, the elected official policy, and the different variations,’ Chief Administrative Officer for the city, Gilbert Montaño said.

‘There’s no ultimate conclusion at this current moment. Right now it’s in law, and we are evaluating it and I think there would be a determination sooner rather than later.’

She now owes $30,000 in upgrade expenses for American Airlines first class upgrades, The city's travel policy states: 'Employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available¿ '

She now owes $30,000 in upgrade expenses for American Airlines first class upgrades, The city’s travel policy states: ‘Employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available…’

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.

Then in March, the mayor spent more than $2,800 to fly first-class to Miami for a US Conference of Mayors gathering. The cost is nine times more than the $342 fare NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson pair.

Other city staffers paid $677 to take the trip according to 4WWL.

That’s about nine times the $342 NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson paid to fly economy to the same meeting. Other staff paid $677.

Come the summer, two pricey jaunts to Europe saw Mayor Cantrell and three of her top aides spent more than $40,000 on travel to France, which she defended by drawing on the city’s heritage.

‘You’re talking about France, from which we’ve come, meaning part of the fabric of the City Of New Orleans. You’re talking about France, that has an ambassador living in the city of New Orleans,’ Cantrell said during an August press conference.

The mayor’s first-class flight cost $11,000 more than the equivalent economy class ticket purchased by her communications officer Gregory Joseph.

I do travel business class, absolutely. I need to be protected. … I need to be safe as I do business on behalf of the city of New Orleans,’ Cantrell said.

One week after returning from France, the mayor was back across the pond once again, this time to Ascona, Switzerland, to sign a ‘sister city’ agreement.

Her flight cost just over $9,800 with her spending more than $11,000 on the six-day trip.

Dillard University public policy professor Robert Collins says the mayor could easily argue that she is a city employee despite her elected status.

It’s sort of like saying the President of the United States is not an employee of the federal government. He draws a salary, of course he is,’ Collins said.

It’s like saying the governor of Louisiana is not an employee of the state government. Of course he is. He is the CEO of the state government. So to pretend there is some sort of legal difference between an elected official who draws a salary from a government agency and an employee of that government agency, I think it’s problematic.’

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