zoo.nc013.090518 (copy)

The sun may have shone down on Mayor LaToya Cantrell during her trade mission to Cuba April 2-7, but the skies opened up — literally and figuratively — on her while she was away.

The day of Herroner’s departure brought news not of her efforts to strengthen ties between New Orleans and Cuba, but rather her administration’s efforts to pinch more money from drivers who get caught speeding by traffic cameras. Two days later, torrential rains caused widespread street flooding. The warm Caribbean sun notwithstanding, Cantrell did not have a good week while she was away.

I don’t have a problem with traffic cameras, but I do have a problem with changing the rules and not telling anyone. (See Commentary, p. 11) That’s what Team Cantrell did when it changed the tolerance levels on traffic cameras across town.

Under Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the city trumpeted its policy of cutting drivers a break — up to a point. In school zones, where the speed limit is 20 mph, drivers only got ticketed for going more than 25 mph. Elsewhere, they had to exceed the posted limit by more than 10 mph. That policy was announced at least a month before the city issued camera-based tickets.

Several months ago, the Cantrell administration quietly changed that policy. Drivers who had grown accustomed to pushing the limit suddenly found themselves facing substantial fines for going 24 mph in a school zone or 8 mph over the limit elsewhere. Needless to say, those drivers are irate — particularly after Cantrell made a big deal of her campaign promise to get rid of all traffic cameras.

When folks found out the mayor was in Cuba — her first international trade mission since taking office — she became the object of even more scorn. It didn’t help that her trip, like the change in traffic camera tolerances, was not announced in advance.

There’s no requirement that either item be publicly proclaimed beforehand, but it is good policy (and smart politics) for mayors to let citizens know where and when they’re traveling — and before they change policies that could cost taxpayers millions.

For the record, Cantrell’s trade mission to Cuba is totally justified. Landrieu went there when he was mayor, as did former Mayor Ray Nagin, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and current Gov. John Bel Edwards. Our city has longstanding cultural and economic ties to Cuba; the mayor ought to explore how those ties can be strengthened.

She also ought to tout such trips in advance — and let citizens know when rule changes are about to cost them a bundle.

In fairness, Cantrell tweeted regularly from Cuba, but only after she got there — and only her 8,000 or so followers got the news right away.

I suspect that had she tweeted a few months ago about the new traffic camera rules, she would have gotten a lot more retweets than her Cuban selfies generated.

If there’s a silver lining in all this, perhaps the street flooding on April 4 bolstered Cantrell’s case for getting more scratch from the hospitality industry for infrastructure. Hopefully, she’ll give us a heads-up as soon as she returns to town.