Mayor vows he won't bankrupt City Hall to pay fire fighters

Mayor threatened with house arrest over NOFD pay

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he is willing to go under house arrest rather cripple city services.

On Friday Judge Kern Reese handed down a contempt ruling because the city has failed to come up with a plan to pay New Orleans fire fighters $75 million in back pay. That does not include some $67 million in interest.

"We think he is wrong on the law and have every reason to believe on appeal we will be successful," Landrieu told the media shortly after leaving the courthouse.

Both sides negotiated with the help of mediator late into Thursday night, but when the scheduled 9:30 a.m. court hearing began, there was no resolution.

Reese is giving the mayor until next Friday to reach agreement with fire fighters on how to settle the judgement. Landrieu called it an over-reach by the judge.

"This ruling undermines the very fundamental principle of our constitution, and it disrupts the separation of powers which goes back 200 years in the United States of America," Landrieu said.

He said his administration has negotiated in good faith, and that the fire fighters' union has rejected at least five serious proposals to settle not only this case, but the ongoing court case involving their pension fund.

"Let me be clear about this, before I decimate our city's budget, before I stop the street repairs that we're making, stop filling potholes, turn off your street lights, before I shut down NORD, before I lay off fire fighters and police and city employees, I am prepared to stay under house arrest for the next two years of my term because this is too important and too much is at stake for the city of New Orleans," Landrieu said.

Nick Felton, president of the Fire Fighters Association of New Orleans, sees it differently.

"We have situations out there that can absolutely bring an end to this without hurting the citizens and without breaking the backs of the city budget. It doesn't have to happen," Felton said.

Landrieu inherited the  money battle with fire fighters, which dates back decades, but Landrieu said he refuses to sign off on what the fire fighters are demanding because the city's bank account can't afford it.

Fire fighters union leader said they are being reasonable.

"Anybody getting arrested for anything is just not where we should be going, okay? We just need to strap on the gloves, get in there and do what we gotta do and make this right for the city. My God it's been 35 years," Felton said.

"Rather than working with all parties, they are now pursuing this scorched earth policy," said Landrieu.

The mayor and union leaders said they will continue to negotiate.

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