JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A landmark court ruling today found that the city of Jacksonville violated state Sunshine Laws during talks about how to reform police and firefighter pensions.
Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace ruled that a month-long secret mediation that occurred earlier this year among city officials, union leaders and representatives of the Police and Fire Pension Fund ought to have been open to the public.
The judge's order also requires that future negotiations on pension fund matters occur in the open, as required by collective bargaining rules.
In an effort to rein in costs, the city of Jacksonville has tried to force the firefighters union to collectively bargain pension benefits. Union officials have refused to negotiate pension payouts, saying they are governed by a point to a 30-year deal the city made with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, and not subject to collective bargaining.
The court order comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Frank Denton, editor of the Florida Times-Union, who accused the city and the pension fund board of using an unrelated federal mediation as a "shroud of secrecy" to hammer out a pension agreement.
Asked if the decision would prompt any additional New Year's celebrations, Denton told First Coast News, "If there's a bottle of champagne involved, it should be to toast our court and judicial system for standing up for principal of government in the Sunshine."
Representatives for the city and union were not immediately available for comment.
Mayor Alvin Brown has pledged to find a solution to the city's pension crisis, which has $1.7 billion in unfunded liabilities and consumes about 20 percent of the city's budget. Although the City Council rejected the deal that came from the mediation, saying it did not go far enough, some elements remain the subject of ongoing talks to resolve the city's looming pension crisis.
The next meeting of the Retirement Reform Task Force is Jan 8. You can read the judge's ruling here.
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First Coast News