Inspector General recommends renting Pontalba apartment to the public
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After investigating New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s use of the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment, the Inspector General says the apartment shouldn’t be used by the mayor or any mayor in the future.
The IG says allowing mayors to use the apartment is costing tens of thousands of dollars a year when it could be rented out instead.
In a letter to the mayor, the IG lays out detailed findings and concludes that Mayor Cantrell’s use of the apartment likely violates state law and city ordinance while costing the French Market Corporation more than $40,000 a year.
The letter urged the city to relinquish the French Quarter apartment and allow it to be rented to the public.
“Personal use of this apartment by the mayor gives the appearance of a donation of public property, which is in violation of the Louisiana constitution,” Ed Michel said.
The IG’s office began looking into Mayor Cantrell’s use of the apartment amid a series of Fox 8 investigations that showed her spending long hours during the work day inside of it.
A former member of her security team, NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie, often visited the apartment with her, both on and off the clock.
Public records requests revealed the mayor was apparently doing little work during that time, sending few emails, and sometimes canceling or missing meetings and appearances.
OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
Michel says while there is no written agreement involving the apartment, Cantrell’s use has far exceeded how past mayors utilized the space.
“It appears the use here is often daily use and with the previous mayor that we’ve to, his interpretation of the rules regarding the use of the apartment was that it was used for visiting dignitaries, not for personal use, and definitely not for daily use by the mayor,” Michel said.
Michel says the city is unnecessarily losing out on income while spending thousands on utilities.
“This apartment can be rented for $2,900 a month,” Michel said. “Which could generate about $36,000 a year for the city. The city also pays an additional $5,000 a year in utilities, which brings the total of about $41,000 that the city is not collecting every year while this apartment remains open and vacant and available for the mayor for her use.”
Emails obtained by Fox 8 show Mayor Cantrell also had family stay at the apartment and sent lists of requests for repairs for the French Market Corporation, which manages the property.
Michel insists there is no need for work or personal use of the property.
“The home rule charter states that the mayor’s office shall be in City Hall,” Michel said. “Gallier Hall is the official reception location for the mayor and provides a superior venue for any special event.”
“The Office of Inspector General is recommending that this apartment be placed on the rent rolls to one of the 300 people that are waiting to rent an apartment at the Upper Pontalba,” Michel said. “The city is committed to earning fair market value for all taxpayer-owned property and leasing this apartment will honor that commitment.”
If the city insists on keeping the apartment, Michel says rules need to be put in writing and the city needs to prove taxpayers are getting their money’s worth for footing the bill.
“If this arrangement is to continue,” Michel said. “The French Market Corporation and the city must enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement. It must include the public purpose of the apartment. It must be utilized in a way that would not appear to violate the Louisiana constitution. And lastly, but most importantly, the city must demonstrate an expectation of receiving a benefit of value equivalent to the rent each month. In this case, the city must show that there’s a benefit of about $2,900 a month each month.”
Fox 8 reached out to the mayor’s office and the French Market Corporation for comment but they did not respond.
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