What looked like a moment of reckoning in the legal battle between Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city’s firefighters over $143 million in back pay and interest owed by the city appeared to fizzle on Thursday.
Both sides signaled that they expect Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese to push back a hearing in the case that was set for Friday, when Landrieu’s administration faced a deadline for getting Reese a plan to pay the firefighters what they are owed.
Several hours worth of discussion Thursday at the City Council, which must sign off on any plan from Landrieu’s office, yielded little except a promise from both sides to return to the negotiating table.
Talks over the past few months have failed to produce a compromise. The mayor’s latest proposal calls for paying firefighters only about $45 million of the $143 million judgment and spreading those payments out over the next decade or so.
The plan also would settle a separate lawsuit over the firefighters’ ailing pension system, with City Hall committing to put more cash into the fund if firefighters accept less-generous retirement benefits.
There was little public debate at Thursday’s council meeting, but those terms seem unlikely to please the firefighters, who so far have won every round of their decades-old dispute with the city in court.
Most of the discussion at the council meeting took place during a lengthy closed session. Representatives from Landrieu’s office and the firefighters union both addressed council members, who ended up voting to ask that Reese push back Friday’s hearing.
Whatever proposal the two sides eventually agree upon — if they ever do agree — must be endorsed by Reese, who has said he is frustrated with City Hall’s foot-dragging and might consider holding city officials in contempt or ordering the seizure of city assets.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.