Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s recent trip to South Korea for a climate expo cost taxpayers more than $32,000 and included upgrades for first-class seats that city officials say they do not have to pay out of their own pockets.

Cantrell and two aides – Communications Director Gregory Joseph and New Orleans Police Officer Robert Monlyn, her security officer – flew first class for a domestic leg to San Francisco and again on the return trip, from Denver, records show.

The group also charged for business class seats in the overseas portion of their trip, which is allowed under the city’s policies only if the costs don’t far exceed coach fares. However, no one submitted quotes for how much it would have cost to fly coach instead, as is required.

City policy mandates that employees cover the difference between first class and coach seats. Joseph said he and Monlyn won’t be doing so because the first-class seats were booked by a travel agent as a package with the allowable flights overseas. “It’s all the same ticket,” he said.

Asked why the group couldn’t have flown coach for the duration of the trip, Joseph said, “I don’t book the tickets. I just go where they tell me.”

Cantrell’s flights totaled more than $10,500.

However, almost half of that was covered by the South Korea event’s host, The New York Times. The Times did not reimburse Joseph or Monlyn for their flights, which totaled more than $20,500.

Cantrell’s travel has come under heavy scrutiny in the last year after she took a pair of trips to Europe last summer and charged taxpayers nearly $30,000 in seat upgrades. Cantrell agreed to reimburse the city for those expenses after the city attorney said the mayor was required to follow the city’s policies, like any other employee.

Cantrell was also accused in a divorce filing of having an "ongoing sexual relationship" with her former security guard, NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie, who accompanied Cantrell on several trips. Cantrell has denied the allegations.

She has defended her travel as a way to promote New Orleans around the globe and educate herself and other officials on how to tackle the city’s most pressing issues, including climate change.

Her trips have frequently come with perks.

A three-day excursion to Southern France last July included a walking tour of the French Riviera, a visit to a Picasso museum and an international jazz festival on the Mediterranean waterfront. Cantrell also took a one-day side trip to Paris, with a $2,900 bill for lodging at a hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

The month before, she flew to Ascona, Switzerland to attend another jazz festival and form a partnership with the city “built on a shared appreciation" for the music genre, born in New Orleans.

In her latest trip, the two-day event in South Korea, included panels on how technology is used around the world to help create solutions to climate change. Cantrell was the only U.S. mayor to attend.

In announcing her trip, Cantrell said New Orleans is a uniquely positioned American city to take part in such discussions.

"As a low-lying coastal city, we are on the front lines of an already changing climate, and now, more than ever, we must take advantage of opportunities like these to see how other countries are approaching the same issue and share best practices,” she said.

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