City and firefighters back to the table over Prop B Tuesday afternoon

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The City of Houston and Houston firefighters will be back to meet with mediator Dave Matthiesen Tuesday afternoon.

Emerging from Monday night's session after 3 and a half hours of meetings, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters he was, "Tak(ing) one step at a time."

The fire union remained silent as they left, explaining only that the mediator asked the parties not to speak with the media.

Fire chief Sam Pena described the session to ABC13's Ted Oberg. "You know what, it's cordial. Like I said when I came in, I'm encouraged by the conversations."

Pena declined to offer a guess on the likely success of the ongoing talks.

Monday's meeting with a mediator was the first session in a renewed judge-ordered effort to find a deal to end the bitter battle over Prop B pay parity for Houston firefighters. It was longer than the three previous meetings between the mayor and firefighters combined.

If no deal is reached Tuesday, Judge Tanya Garrison ordered both sides back to the table next week. Only the mediator can declare an impasse between the parties in the non-binding sessions.

In an order signed Monday morning, Judge Garrison writes, "Should no resolution be reached, the Parties shall return to mediate with Mr. Matthiesen on Monday, April 29 (or another day that week as dictated by Mr. Matthiesen's schedule). The parties will continue to mediate this case until: (1) a settlement is achieved; or (2) in the sole determination of Mr. Matthiesen, they have reaches (sic) an impasse."

The timing of the mediation is significant as Houston's city council is expected to vote Wednesday on a plan to lay off 220 firefighters. There is no word if council members would hold off on a vote if the two sides are still talking.

Appearing at a news conference with soon to be laid off Houston municipal employees, Houston Council Member Dave Martin expressed hope that a deal would be reached that would make Wednesday's expected vote "null and void."

The Houston police union is also part of the court ordered mediation. The HPOU brought the initial lawsuit against the city to declare Prop B unconstitutional. Judge Garrison said she needs several more weeks to rule on that part of the case.

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