The concession deal with the firefighters has leaked out, allowing a more substantive and informed debate to take place as to its merits and whether the City Council should approve it. We think it should.
But on the subject of open government, our opinion remains that Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio received bad legal advice in choosing not to release the agreement. Attorney Brian K. Estep, representing the city, advised the administration that though the matter is before the council, which deadlocked 3-3 on whether to ratify, it remains closed to the public, falling under the Freedom of Information law exemption for: "Records, reports and statements of strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining."
Not to repeat all the arguments made in Thursday's editorial, but we don't see where a signed agreement reached between the administration and the firefighters' union, and submitted to the council as a piece of legislation, is covered by that or any FOI exemption.
On other hand, it is understandable that a mayor would be reluctant to buck advice of counsel, exposing the city legally if he is wrong. Mayor Finizio told us he may ask the FOI Commission for an advisory opinion to guide his future decisions about contracts needing council approval. He should.
As for the deal itself, the major items appear to be these. It will reduce mandatory staffing levels from 18 to 16 per shift; move the union into the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System (CMERS), making it attractive for older firefighters to retire; and freeze salaries during the coming fiscal year.
In return the city would provide $4 million (bonded), which when combined with $10 million in the union's 401-plan would fund its entrance into CMERS. The contract would be extended through July 1, 2015, with 2 percent pay raises in each of the last three years.
The give and take of these negotiations, and the resultant reductions in both staffing and the retirement of higher paid personnel, promise to produce long-term savings and avoid the substantial layoffs the mayor threatened. On balance, this is a good deal for the city and fair one for the department.