NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Two days before Mayor Mitch Landrieu faces a critical court deadline or risk being placed under house arrest, City Council members met out of the public's view Wednesday to discuss the ongoing legal battle over back pay for city fire fighters.
After more than two hours, council members emerged from executive session.
"This is a very serious matter based upon the events of last Friday," said Council President Jason Williams.
Last week, Civil Court Judge Kern Reese issued a contempt of court ruling and threatened to put Landrieu under house arrest this Friday if he failed to come up with a plan to pay a $75 million judgment won by fire fighters. Over the years of litigation, interest has grown to about $67 million.
"As a council, we will always consider our fiduciary responsibility to the public and its budget as paramount," Williams said.
Williams and other council members refused to say whether they discussed a possible resolution.
"We just want the public to understand that we will strive to stay on top of the issue on behalf of each and every citizen, so that we can make sure that all money is spent wisely," Williams said.
"Their last best offer so far was that people now currently owed money would be 108, 110 years old before they would get their money, I mean that's utterly ridiculous, that is no offer," said Nick Felton, president of the New Orleans Fire Fighters Association.
The mayor has said vital city services would be decimated if his administration caves to the fire fighters' union demands.
But Felton disagrees.
"The fears that the mayor is trying to put out there that we're not going to fix potholes, and street repairs, that doesn't even come out the general fund budget, that comes out of the Capital Outlay budget, so this is just a mechanism to try to deceive the public," said Felton.
The fire fighters' money dispute with city hall over the pay dates back to the 1970s.
"The first pleading was filed in 1979 which really talks and discussions went back as far as 1975 because of the failure to implement what is every city is doing…every city is complying with this rule and this law, but the city of New Orleans thinks it's above the law and that's the problem we're having here," said Felton.
There is a separate ongoing legal fight over funding the fire fighters' pension fund. that involves additional millions of dollars. Mayor Landrieu said the fund has been mismanaged.