Taxpayers in New Orleans should welcome an investigation and resolution of LaToya Cantrell's credit card problems — for whatever the mayor-elect might say, it was a problem.
During her five years in office, Cantrell routinely misused her city-issued credit card and sometimes took months or years to pay back what she owed. In all, she repaid $9,000. Half of that was reimbursed just as she qualified for office — in other words, at the moment when voters, and her opponents, might start asking questions.
Cantrell frequently used her city credit card for expenses that she did not document, and it’s no defense to say that the rest of the council did the same thing. No private business would put up with that kind of sloppy accounting, nor would a well-run government, nor should the taxpayers of New Orleans.
The council should have followed the lead of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who limited access to credit cards and required strict documentation for expenses.
The investigation of Cantrell’s spending has fallen to Attorney General Jeff Landry after Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro — a political foe of the mayor-elect — removed himself.
Landry has built a political portfolio based on two-fisted attacks on New Orleans. The attorney general launched a thousand press releases over the city’s so-called “sanctuary” policy for handling immigrants illegally in the United States, and he wound up looking like Inspector Clouseau when the Trump Department of Justice gave Landrieu a clean bill of health.
Landry needs to show voters that he can conduct an unbiased and nonpartisan probe that will satisfy not just Cantrell’s foes, but the 60 percent of New Orleans voters who supported her.
The attorney general got off to an awkward start with his unsuccessful motion to recuse every New Orleans criminal judge because they work with a city magistrate who is Cantrell’s father-in-law, and because the council oversees judicial budgets. It might have been simpler to let each of the judges recuse himself or herself, and fight it out if one of them declined.
A better approach for the attorney general would be to wait on the Legislative Auditor's Office, which is probing the credit card use of the entire New Orleans City Council. The results of that investigation should shed light on whether Cantrell’s practices are criminal or simply contemptible.
Meanwhile, Landry could keep himself busy resolving his investigation into the death of Alton Sterling. The people of Baton Rouge have been waiting.