Detroit’s bankruptcy did not set off a national wave of municipal Chapter 9 filings, but the case continues to draw attention and serve as a warning to cities, villages and townships across the United States to keep their fiscal houses in order. That’s according to Mary Murphy, manager on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health and economic growth project. She was one of the authors of the new report “After Municipal Bankruptcy: Lessons from Detroit and other local governments.” She spoke with WDET’s Sandra Svoboda.
Detroit has a host of well-documented problems – poverty, crime, street lights, mass transit – that hamper its recovery. But the ability to create jobs may be its biggest hurdle. More jobs could mean less poverty and more tax revenues to fix the many broken things. Bridge Magazine’s Mike Wilkinson maps where the jobs are and reports about efforts to create more employment around the city.
The Standard and Poor’s agency is rating some Detroit bonds as investment grade, specifically the $245 million in exit financing issued last year as part of bankruptcy proceedings. The rating agency assigned the “A” rating largely based on a new Michigan law that pledges Detroit’s income tax revenue to secure the bonds for investors. Barclay’s Capital currently holds the bonds, and the city pays a variable interest rate. Here’s more from WDET’s Sandra Svoboda.
The Plan of Adjustment provided $10 million for Detroit’s parks, writes Bridge Magazine’s Bill McGraw, which means improvements at dozens of parks around the city this summer. A tripling the number of workers tending them. Growing corporate support. A collection of volunteer park lovers adopting green space in Detroit neighborhoods and caring for parks that the city still is not able to reach. The city is closing some parks, but as McGraw travels around the city and speaks with residents and officials, he finds that parks in Detroit are a “good news” story.
Officials in Puerto Rico are hearing from Detroit’s former bankruptcy judge about how Chapter 9 works and how it allowed Detroit to restructure its debt, including pensions. Now-retired Judge Steven Rhodes is advising the Commonwealth about federal bankruptcy law. With its roughly $70 billion in bond debt and $35 billion in unfunded pension obligations, Puerto Rico has nearly five times the obligations Detroit did when the city filed for bankruptcy two years ago. Rhodes spoke with WDET’s Sandra Svoboda.
The famed Mackinac Policy Conference is put on by the Detroit Regional Chamber, so it’s not surprising the city is a central focus of the conference agenda. Of course, there’s also that Southeast Michigan is the state’s major population and economic center, and that Detroit wrapped up history’s biggest municipal bankruptcy case just a few months ago. Some of the major players in the Chapter 9 are on the Island again, and what they’re saying this year is a bit different than what they brought to the stage last year. Here’s a look at what some of bankruptcy’s biggest players said at the 2014 event and where things stand now.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen appeared together to receive awards from Goodwill Industries. The nonprofit agency also honored the 12 foundations that chipped in for the grand bargain. As the men were honored at the lunchtime event, held at the Detroit Athletic Club, they made brief remarks. Here are the highlights:
Orr drew a standing ovation as he took the podium.
“The 21 months that it took us to get through the emergency manager’s term was at times both tumultuous, exulting and, finally, exceptionally rewarding. As I look through the room I see the real, shall we say, heroes of Detroit. It was the people of Detroit that soldiered through a tumultuous and somewhat destabilizing time as we went through the bankruptcy to the end,” Orr said.
Rhodes recognized the team effort involved in the complicated case.
The now-retired judge said he was accepting Goodwill’s award not only for himself, but for all the professionals who acted as a team to move the case, “in 17 months, from its chaotic beginning to its successful conclusion.” He said the smartest thing he did was appoint Rosen as chief mediator, who now “deserves the mass majority of credit for the ultimate success of the case.” After quipping about the moments of tension that they shared during the trial, Rhodes thanked Orr for handling the political and personal challenges of the Grand Bargain with “grace, competence and success.” “As I go around the country and speak about Detroit, people are enthusiastic about its future and rooting for the city,” said Rhodes.
He said unlike most stories, which require heroes and villains, the bankruptcy case only has heroes and heroines. Calling it “one of the most remarkable experiences” of his career, Rosen also said the bankruptcy case was like the “big bang theory” in that it “brought together unrelated people and events colliding to form a great universe that brought new hope to a great city and its people.”
WDET, Detroit’s public radio station, and Bridge Magazine won a combined 26 awards in this year’s Society of Professional Journalists-Detroit Excellence in Journalism contest, which is one of the largest journalism competitions in Michigan. The two outlets work together as part of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC), a partnership of nonprofit media.
Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’s Michigan Reporting Initiative and the Ford Foundation, the DJC partners are reporting about and creating community engagement opportunities relevant to the city’s bankruptcy, recovery and restructuring.
In the SPJ competition, WDET earned 14 awards altogether, including six for DJC content. In the broadcast category, WDET claimed:
- 1st Place in Radio Investigative Reporting for the Detroit Agenda series. Judges’ comments: “Kudos to the team for reporting top-notch concrete stories on issues residents determined were top issues in the city.”
- 2nd Place in Radio Investigative Reporting for the Mayor Duggan at the Six Month Mark Series. Judges’ comments: “The reporters in this series honed in on the mayor – his promises and actions.”
- 1st and 3rd Place in Radio Breaking News for bankruptcy trial coverage.
In the online category, open to all print, broadcast and online media, WDET won:
- 2nd Place for Online Blogging for NextChapterDetroit.com, which features content from all DJC partners.
- Honorable Mention for Online Feature writing on NextChapterDetroit.com. The entry included “The Bike-ruptcy Bus Tour,” “Linked in Lansing? Michigan’s term limits and Detroit’s bankruptcy,” and “The ArtVest Report on the DIA: A history, appraisal of key issues.” Judges’ comments: “Well done. These stories are illustrative of the new forms of journalism that rock,
but don’t fit in traditional contest categories. Keep up the good work.”
Bridge earned 12 awards altogether, including four first place awards across the eight online division categories. Bridge earned two awards for DJC content:
- 2nd Place in Digital Media Presentation for “Duggan Donor Database: Big-time, Super PAC money comes to Motown.“
- 3rd Place in Watchdog Reporting for “Benchmark Detroit: Charting Detroit’s path from rock bottom.” Judges’ comments: “It is clear much work and research was done to produce these stories.”
In addition, WDET’s Sandra Svoboda’s DJC work throughout the year inspired the Wayne State University Graduate Public Administration program to name her its 2015 Distinguished Alumnus. She earned her master’s of public administration from WSU in 1997 and teaches as an adjunct faculty member in WSU’s Department of Political Science and at the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s College of Arts, Sciences and Letters public administration program.
Blight removal was a much-discussed part of Detroit’s bankruptcy trial. As head of the Blight Removal Task Force, billionaire Dan Gilbert took the stand and talked about the need for removing vacant homes. Then-Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr testified about how the $440 million contained in the Plan of Adjustment would go toward fighting blight over a decade. Mayor Mike Duggan has touted the pace at which the city is tearing down dilapidated structures. Now, Bridge Magazine, a Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner, maps out just where the city’s demolition efforts are focused and why. Click on the headline above for the article and find the link to the interactive map down the page.
Tavis Smiley, PBS’s popular late night television host, is in Detroit this week to tape five episodes of his award-winning program, Tavis Smiley. Detroit Public Television will film the show in front of a live audience at the Community Arts Auditorium at Wayne State University.
Tickets to be part of Smiley’s live studio are available by clicking HERE.
Smiley’s series of episodes taped in Detroit will focus on the city’s rebirth and recovery, paying particular attention to the bankruptcy’s role in rebuilding downtown, pressing issues facing Detroit residents, the Arab-American population in Dearborn, the city’s arts community and the problems facing inner city education.
Smiley has spent the better part of his career focusing on issues facing the African-American community. Starting out in local public radio in Los Angeles on KGFJ, Smiley went on to host social issue forums on C-SPAN as well as host and produce his own shows on Black Entertainment Television and National Public Radio. He has also published numerous books and essay collections discussing a wide range of topics from poverty to education and healthcare, and the Tavis Smiley Foundation helps fund programs aimed at developing young leaders in their communities.
Detroit Public Television is a partner with WDET in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.