Cantrell's campaign details trip spending

LaToya Cantrell’s mayoral campaign has detailed about 40 trips she or her staff members took that were paid for at least in part with city funds during her five years as a member of the City Council.

The accounting comes as Cantrell’s opponent, Desiree Charbonnet, has continued to mount attacks over Cantrell’s use of a city credit card.

Charbonnet’s campaign alleges that Cantrell’s decision to reimburse the city for almost $9,000 in expenses charged to her city credit card — sometimes quickly, sometimes months or years later — shows that Cantrell was using it for personal and campaign expenses.

After initially refusing to answer questions posed by The New Orleans Advocate about some trips noted by the Charbonnet campaign but not explained earlier by Cantrell, the councilwoman’s campaign provided a full accounting of her travel on Friday.

“Because of the councilwoman’s work and expertise in disaster recovery, she receives many invitations to speak to national and international groups,” according to a statement from the campaign. “She accepts these speaking engagements when it presents an opportunity to learn what other communities are currently doing to improve quality of life and to share what she has learned as a (council member) and a community leader.”

The list includes Cantrell’s first trip as a councilwoman, in July 2013, to Ghana, a trip that the campaign said was to study microenterprises in the country, provide a proclamation and computers to a school, meet with African girls about leadership and discuss immigration.

The trip also included efforts to get support for a National Slave Ship Museum in New Orleans, an idea that was proposed several years ago but has not materialized.

Cantrell’s office paid the roughly $2,270 cost of the round-trip flight.

The travel also includes multiple trips associated with the Aspen Institute, a think tank in Colorado. Those include trips where Cantrell appeared on panels and at forums, plus a leadership fellowship that included a “field study trip” to Costa Rica. In most of those cases, Cantrell’s office paid for the flights, and her hotel bills and other costs were covered by the Aspen Institute. Many of those costs were included in the reimbursements seized on by the Charbonnet campaign.

Other trips at least partially covered by city funds were tied to city policies, some of which were of particular interest to Cantrell. Those included resilience conferences in New York City, San Francisco and Milan, Italy, portions of which were largely paid for by the sponsoring organizations.

A trip to Atlanta to discuss immigration issues was covered by the sponsoring organization, with Cantrell’s office paying only for incidentals, as was a second panel in Nashville, Tennessee. A later trip to New York City to discuss immigration was paid for by Cantrell’s office.

Other trips that were covered by outside groups include a journey to Washington to accept an award from the American Cancer Society for pushing through the city’s smoke-free ordinance for bars, and a discussion on stormwater management in San Antonio that was covered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

A trip for one of Cantrell’s staffers to the Washington Mardi Gras — a major lobbying event that many Louisiana officials attend or send staff to — was reimbursed by Cantrell’s campaign. Another trip by Cantrell and a different staffer  to Washington for the pope’s visit to the White House was also reimbursed by the campaign.

Planning continues for new homeless shelter

Not a lot has been heard lately about the city's plans for a "low-barrier" shelter for homeless people, but the City Council recently took a step in that direction.

It authorized Mayor Mitch Landrieu to enter into an agreement with the Downtown Development District and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to collaborate on the design, remodeling, operation and funding of the new shelter on the second floor of the former Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Gravier Street.

Start Corp., a nonprofit organization based in Houma, has been selected to run the 100-bed facility.

Nearly 500 people can be found sleeping on the streets on any given night in New Orleans. Start Corp., in partnership with the DDD, the Convention Center and the city, will work to connect them with not only shelter but also an array of critical social services, all in one spot.

Tammany tax bills out earlier than usual

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office mailed out the parish's annual property tax notices Friday, about two weeks earlier than normal, after the Assessor’s Office completed the tax rolls ahead of schedule this year.

More than 137,430 bills are being mailed out for the 2017 tax year, totaling approximately $297 million. The Sheriff's Office collects and distributes 73 different millages and property fees for dozens of taxing agencies across St. Tammany.

By law, the sheriff is the collector of property taxes for unincorporated areas of the parish. In St. Tammany, the Sheriff’s Office also collects taxes for the municipalities of Slidell, Mandeville, Covington, Abita Springs, Pearl River and Madisonville. As a result, property owners receive a single bill encompassing both their parish and municipal taxes.

Property owners can pay their bills online through the sheriff’s payment website, www.stpsopayments.com, which accepts both bank drafts and credit card payments. Payments can also be mailed in or brought to the Sheriff’s Office locations on Brownswitch Road in Slidell or the Justice Center in Covington.

Owners whose tax payments are escrowed through their mortgage company should promptly relay their bills to that company to ensure timely payment.

All bills are due Dec. 31.

Compiled by Jeff Adelson and Bruce Eggler