Will Sutton: Mayor Cantrell, just pay the first-class difference and move on | Columnist Will Sutton

New Orleans City Attorney Donesia Turner says Mayor LaToya Cantrell owes the city some money.

In a Sept. 27 memo that provides guidance without the force of law, Turner said the mayor, as an elected official, is a city employee bound by the same travel policies as all city employees, based on her reading of a July 1 policy crafted by Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño.

In part, the 11-page policy says “employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available.” It directs city employees to use the city-contracted travel agency or two other “direct price quotes from commercial airlines” prices for coach, economy or business class flights. Perhaps the most important language says that “employees who choose an upgrade from coach, economy or business class flights are solely responsible for the difference in cost.”

I disagree with that part of the policy.

I want my mayor to travel with some class, with some style, at least on trips that take several hours. Whether the mayor’s first name is Moon, Dutch, Sidney, Marc, Ray, Mitch or LaToya, a coach seat is OK on short flights. But if the mayor is traveling to Sweden or Paris, I want the city’s leader to be comfortable reading documents or working on a laptop.

Unfortunately for Cantrell, the CAO didn’t ask me and he didn’t include that in the policy.

Another part of the policy allows some flexibility, with advance approval: “An authorized employee is allowed to purchase a business class flight at a rate not to exceed 110% of the coach rate for international flights greater than ten (10) hours. Documentation showing the length of the flight must be provided with the Travel Expense Form. ” I haven’t heard or read about any such authorization.

Prior to Turner’s opinion, Montaño said he wasn’t sure whether the policy he wrote applies to the mayor. Turner is sure. She said the policy does “apply to the Office of Mayor, which includes the Mayor as its head … elected officials are deemed to be employees of the city and as such, they are subject to adherence to CAO Policy Memorandum No. 9 ( R). “

Turner, appointed by Cantrell last year, is responsible for providing legal counsel to the mayor and the City Council. At-large City Council members JP Morrell and Helena Moreno said they will consider garnishing Cantrell’s pay to get the $ 29,000 or so they say she owes if she does not pay up. Cantrell has said she’s not going to pay the difference. She said it again at a Tuesday news conference. Her reasons for lei include mental health and safety as she handled city business.

I get it. The mayor thinks she’s right. Sometimes we take stands based on principle.

New York City’s former mayor owes that city money for police detail work when he ran for president. He appealed, insisting he’s right. Many years ago San Diego’s acting mayor repaid some travel expenses for which he couldn’t produce receipts. He withdrew from a campaign to take on the job full time. A few years ago, the mayor of Rome sparked Dinnergate after hosting family and friends with city funds. He fought it, then reimbursed the city and still lost his job.

Just a few years ago, I had a dispute with a company about what they said was an outstanding debt. They falsely accused me of owing money. I discussed, debated then fussed and fought the matter. On principle, I was right. Finally, I realized that I couldn’t win. The company could hurt me far more by sending the bill to a collection agency and making sure that it showed up on my credit report.

I wanted the matter to go away. I didn’t have a political PAC or any important or rich enough friend I was willing to ask to take care of it. It was less than $ 200. I paid it.

The mayor still has good friends. There are lots of people who want to see her succeed, but they’re tired of the drama. They just want a focus on the big issues. Crime. Sewerage and water. Streets. Trash.

I’m ready for this first-class expense matter to go away.

When Cantrell appointed Turner as city attorney, she called the experienced legal professional “an experienced litigator … who will carry the torch of the City’s Law Department as we continue to implement fair and equitable policies, while providing very competent legal representation on behalf of the residents of our great city. “

If Cantrell believes what she said, she’ll pay the bill and put this controversy behind her.

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