New Orleans Mayor Prepared To Spend Rest Of Term In House Arrest Over Firefighters' Pay

The firefighters believe the city owes them almost $200 million.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he would accept house arrest in a dispute over backpay for firefighters.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he would accept house arrest in a dispute over backpay for firefighters.

If it comes to it, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) is prepared to govern the next two years while under house arrest. 

On Friday, Civil District Judge Kern Reese placed Landrieu in contempt, saying he failed to present a reasonable payment plan in response to the city firefighters' case for backpay. Reese set next Friday as the deadline by which the mayor must propose a better plan or face house arrest. 

The firefighters, who are seeking $75 million in backpay plus $67 million in interest and about $55 million in payments to their pension system, have triumphed over the Landrieu administration in every round of court. The two sides have been in mediation for about a month. 

In a press conference following the ruling Friday, Landrieu said he was "extremely disappointed" in the ruling.

"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 told reporters. "This city has in good faith gone above and beyond the call of duty to resolve both of the issues with the firefighters union and the pension fund." 

The mayor said he is willing to work from home because he doesn't want to divert funds from other important items in the budget.

"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 added. "My wife is really happy about it. She called me and said she's been trying to get me to stay home on weekends for the past 23 years."  

Friday's escalation came after the city publicly disclosed its proposed plan to pay the firefighters $15 million upfront and the other $60 million of backpay over the next 30 years, as long as the firefighters waive their rights to the interest and pension payments. 

The proposal was much more generous than the city's previous offer of $42 million. However, the extended payment period and loss of interest and pensions make it a "ridiculous" offer in the eyes of the firefighters.

The long-term payments stretch out well beyond what is likely to be the natural lives of many of the firefighters, Louis Robein, the firefighters' attorney, told The Times-Picayune. Many have died without seeing a dime.

The judge agreed, calling the deal "absurd." Though this is a big win for the firefighters, Reese implied he expects the firefighters to give some ground in negotiating a deal. 

"Everyone needs to be responsible," he added.