A dispute between Lawrence firefighters and the city of Lawrence went before a district judge Friday, as attorneys argued the legality and validity of a work agreement between the two sides.
The hearing, held in the courtroom of Douglas County District Judge Ralph M. King Jr., stemmed from a suit brought by the International Association of Firefighters Local 1596 and four of its members against the city. Attorneys Friday argued a motion by the city for summary judgement and a cross motion filed by the firefighters.
Firefighters are asking the court to declare the two-year work agreement, or "memorandum of understanding," a binding contract and in violation of the Kansas Cash Basis Law. The law prohibits, with few exceptions, governing bodies from budgeting funds for more than one year.
THE FIREFIGHTERS want an injunction compelling the city to accept a one-year contract that the union proposed during negotiations in April.
Roger Brown, attorney for the city, argued that the agreement is not a binding contract. City staff members were within their legal rights to use an informal agreement in forming a 1990 budget, he said.
Although the agreements are not contracts, Brown said, the "city has always respected those memorandums of understanding."
John Frieden of Topeka, attorney for the firefighters, argued Friday that a resolution passed by commissioners several years ago after a similar case involving Lawrence police negotiations indicates that the agreement is binding.
"It's extremely difficult for me to see the city's argument that this is not a binding contract," he said. "The intent of the city action (resolution) was to make a binding contract."
FRIEDEN SAID the resolution closely resembles a Kansas law that lays out agreement negotiation procedures between city officials and city employees.
When asked by King why the city has chosen to adopt a resolution instead of the state law, Brown said the city "chooses to retain legislative power" in that area.
After hearing about an hour and a half of often intricate arguments from the attorneys, King indicated that he would rule on the issue at a later date.
"I hope I'm going to be able to crank something out on this," he told the attorneys, adding that he may bring them back for more discussion. "I'll tell you, it's sure a cobbled up situation."
THE LAWRENCE City Commission voted to implement the work agreement, which covers 1990 and 1991, after the city and representatives of the International Association of Firefighters failed to reach agreement in negotiations last spring and early summer. The approved agreement gives firefighters a 4 percent salary increase in 1990 and a 3 percent salary increase in 1991. The firefighters had sought a one-year pact with a 4 percent salary increase in 1990 and discontinuation of the extra board, which allows the city to use part-time firefighters to substitute when regular firefighters are ill or on vacation.