New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell plans to travel to Singapore next week to speak at an international conference, her third overseas trip on official business in five weeks, even as her trips come under criticism from some City Council members who seek to curtail public spending and focus on local issues.
Cantrell is scheduled to speak Monday at the World Cities Summit, billed on its website as “an exclusive platform for industry experts to address liveable and sustainable city challenges, share integrated urban solutions and forge new partnerships.”
“This is the world’s majors coming together to talk about climate, to talk about strategies, best practices,” Gregory Joseph, the mayor’s communications director, said Wednesday. “This is an opportunity for us not just to lift up what we’re doing in New Orleans, but also to hear what other successful cities across the globe are doing.”
Two European trips
Cantrell, the only US public official listed as a conference speaker, is touted on the World Cities Summit as joining a panel exploring how “collaborations between urban planners and the real estate industry” can address racial and social divisions in cities.
The major recently traveled to Antibes Juan-les-Pins, France, and Ascona, Switzerland, to sign sister city agreements with majors in those cities. Before those trips, the major and her aids racked up almost $80,000 in travel expenses this year, according to Gambit.
Joseph would not say who is paying for the France, Switzerland and Singapore trips. He referred questions about travel expenses and the size of the official delegation to the administration’s Law Department for public records requests. Public records requests for expenses and itineraries were pending responses on Wednesday.
Council members balk
It is common for majors and other city officials to travel for official business, including to foreign destinations. Cantrell’s predecessor, Mitch Landrieu, traveled abroad at least once to sign a sister-city agreement.
But Cantrell’s recent trips have drawn criticism from some residents, and City Council members Helena Moreno and JP Morrell introduced an ordinance July 21 to restrict travel expenses to $1,000 per official per trip for all “nonessential” trips, including conference attendance and “celebratory events. ” Their proposal is scheduled for vote Aug. 4.
Council members or their spokespersons either declined comment or did not respond to inquiries Wednesday about the Singapore trip. Of the mayor’s trip to France, council member Oliver Thomas previously said Cantrell should “bring back a sister city agreement, an economic relationship and some ideas and things we can do better here.”
Joseph defended the trips, saying that about 50 New Orleans musicians joined the trip to Switzerland and played at the Ascona Jazz Festival. He said festival organizers paid the musicians’ fees to play. It is not clear how their travel and lodging was paid.
“This is a global city that the mayor is the ambassador of. It’s really important for her to be in these spaces,” Joseph said.