Former television reporter Alexis Wiley joined Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration shortly after he took office in the midst of the bankruptcy case. She joined WDET’s Stephen Henderson on the “Detroit Today” program to discuss city improvements and remaining challenges.
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.
The Detroit Land Bank Authority will receive nearly $12 million from the city’s general fund, following a split City Council vote last week. Land bank officials say they needed the monies to operate and continue demolition of vacant and abandoned properties.
The council also transferred nearly 38,000 city-owned residential properties to the Land Bank, which seeks to put them back into productive use or clear them.
Council President Brenda Jones, who along with members Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Janee Ayers voted against the subsidy, said she’s reluctant to take on the financial responsibility.
Detroit, she said, is operating under the oversight of a Financial Review Commission that will go away if officials budget responsibly and avoid deficits for three years.
“My concern is this; we just emerged from a bankruptcy,” Jones said. “The city looks pretty good. I don’t want a deficit to occur in three years because the city is going to be responsible for what the land bank does if the land bank doesn’t have any money.”
The city’s blight was a major issue of the bankruptcy case, with several city officials testifying it was one of the top concerns as they looked to revitalize Detroit.
Orr’s pay in Atlantic City
Former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr collected a higher hourly wage in his consulting role in Atlantic City than most of the attorneys who worked on the Detroit bankruptcy case, according to published reports.
Orr, who was appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a consultant for the financially challenged casino town, charged $950 an hour during his three months of work. His total collected: about $70,000, the Press of Atlantic City reports.
Bankruptcy watchers have sights on Puerto Rico
Like Detroit did two years ago, the sunny island of Puerto Rico is facing a debt crisis: $73 billion owed to financial creditors, NPR reports. With four times the debt that purged Detroit into bankruptcy, the sunny paradise destination is looking for any solution out.
With a junk status rating, Puerto Rico is trying to negotiate a new bond sale with Wall Street investors. At the same time, the island’s troubled energy company, PREPA, is desperately trying to stave off default. … To deal with its debt, Puerto Rico passed a law that would allow troubled agencies like the state-owned power company to seek bankruptcy protection. A federal judge struck down the law, though, ruling it violated the federal Bankruptcy Code. The commonwealth is appealing that decision. It’s also pushing for a law in Congress to amend the Bankruptcy Code to include Puerto Rico. In the meantime, the island needs to find money to pay its creditors. And that means raising taxes.
“In my Detroit neighborhood, the change I wish to see seems so far away,” writes Khalil Ligon in an essay broadcast on Michigan Radio, a Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner. “Imagining places that are clean, safe and vibrant threads my work as an urban planner and sustainability advocate. Yet, despite years of planning and designing these grand visions, my daily landscape doesn’t match the efforts. I know there’s still a long way to go, but I’m getting anxious.”
The “grand bargain” doodle will be on display on the DIA. The feds report on poor management of grants in Detroit. Jones Day opens a permanent office in Detroit. Here’s catching up on some Detroit bankruptcy tidbits.
Chief Judge becomes “honorary artist” at DIA
Gerald Rosen, considered the architect of the “grand bargain” can add “artwork on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts” to his resume.
The museum will enshrine the famous doodle Rosen drew up on the back of a legal pad which laid the groundwork for the grand bargain. As part of the overall bankruptcy settlement, the grand bargain secured funding for the DIA from foundations, corporations, individual donors, the state of Michigan and DIA fundraisers to prevent the sale of the museum’s city-owned collection and protect it from sale to pay off creditors. Rosen is set to be the guest of honor at a private event on April 10, honoring his efforts in preserving the museum.
Museum board director Gene Gargario has said that the doodle will hang “somewhere in its offices,” according to an interview with the Detroit Free Press.
Feds looking for Detroit funds
A recent study released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that inefficiencies in Detroit’s bureaucracy led to a mismanagement of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants. Through a combination of inconsistent internal policies, outdated technology and bookkeeping systems, and layoffs during the fiscal crisis, deficiencies in handling government aid through eight federal grant programs put significant strain on the city’s finances even before the bankruptcy hit.
The report, instituted by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) and Senator Gary Peters (D), was launched to assess how federal aid is handled during fiscal crises. The report not only looked at Detroit but also at Flint, Michigan; Stockton, California; and Camden, New Jersey and found that the limited capacity of the cities in question severely restricted their ability to manage federal funds properly.
Jones Day, the law firm that represented Detroit during its bankruptcy case, is set to open a permanent office in the city some time in July. The Detroit office will be the firm’s 17th office in the U.S. And 42nd in the world. Timothy Melton, a 1987 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, will be partner-in-charge of the office and is set to employ half a dozen lawyers plus support staff. According to Jones Day, the Detroit office will be connected to the firm’s network of 2,400 lawyers across 19 countries to act as a single worldwide firm, the firm said.
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.
Detroit exited bankruptcy with a plan to balance city budgets and improve services to residents.
While elected leaders have the responsibility of overseeing those actions, residents can help measure improvements – or declines – in their neighborhoods. They’ll get help learning to do that at two free events presented by Citizen Detroit. Dinner is included.
The “Dinner & Dialogues” are planned for 5 p.m., Wednesday March 25 and April 22 at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, 111 E. Kirby. They are open forums where Detroiters can learn more about how the city’s post-bankruptcy “blueprint,” the Plan of Adjustment, was drafted and how it will be implemented, says Sheila Cockrel, former Detroit city councilwoman who is part of Citizen Detroit, a Wayne State University project aimed at educating and engaging the city’s residents in local government. It’s part of the Forum on Contemporary Issues, run by former WSU President Irvin Reid.
More information on the Dinner & Dialogue event as well as how to register for it can be found here.
“The idea was that regular Detroiters really want to understand the factual basis for the situations that the city was facing,” Cockrel says. “A hallmark of this program would be that we would deal in factual formation but also give people the opportunity to experience the complexity of making decisions.”
At the events, WDET’s Stephen Henderson, host of “Detroit Today,” and Sandra Svoboda, who covered the bankruptcy and blogs at NextChapterDetroit.com, will play the roles of Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Martha Kopacz, who was the judge’s “expert witness,” in the case. Working off a script based on her testimony in October, the duo will reenact Rhodes questioning Kopacz in court as part of the bankruptcy confirmation hearing.
“What we’ve done is excerpt the transcript because there’s multiple tiers and layers. It’s way too much information for one session. The part we’re going to focus on are the restructuring initiatives,” Cockrel says. “because that’s the place where, I think, are the things citizens really care about.”
Rhodes chose Kopacz as his expert witness after issuing an order that he was seeking an “expert witness” to assist him in assessing the feasibility of any bankruptcy settlement for the city. In late April, he selected Kopacz, of the Boston-based Phoenix Management Services (a business consulting firm,)
She reviewed the city of Detroit’s legal filings, budget audits and financial projections, and interviewed city officials to determine the feasibility of Detroit implementing its Plan of Adjustment.
In October, Rhodes questioned Kopacz in court about the bankruptcy exit and any suggestions Kopacz may have had. In short, she held a positive outlook on the city’s restructuring as it moved forward, saying the Financial Review Commission (established by Gov. RickSnyder to oversee the city’s finances as Detroit rebuilds) was a step in the right direction and that along with Mayor Mike Duggan should keep the city on track financially.
Detroit had an historical year in 2014, to say the least and to say it again.
The city’s bankruptcy – history’s largest municipal case, as we’ve said, written and blogged countless times — monopolized local news, and 2014 brought Detroit and the bankruptcy to the forefront of all local and some national news outlets. Former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes captured headlines, and the “grand bargain” became a household phrase.
Here is a look at some of the year-end news recaps as well as into what 2015 might hold for Detroit:
The city’s past and the future were discussed on 2014’s final Flash Point with optimism reigning supreme. Former City Council Shelia Cockrel, however, “cautions city officials that hard work is on the horizon as the return from bankruptcy continues.”
The WDIV program’s guests included Portia Roberson, the city’s group executive for civil rights and ethics, Cockrel, political consultant Adolph Mongo and The Detroit News’s Nolan Finley. The picture painted of the future is bright but not without bumps in the road.
Roberson predicts 2015 will “undoubtedly be a better year for the city of Detroit, thanks to the emergence from bankruptcy and resulting financial flexibility.” But Cockrel cautions city officials that there is plenty of work left. Mongo suggested ways the city can avoid past mistakes, Finley recommend focusing on raising revenues.
The Detroit Free Press provided comprehensive coverage throughout 2014 about the bankruptcy. Through their extensive reporting, Freep reporters composed a bit “manifesto” chronicling Detroit, the bankruptcy and how it got there. “And, ultimately, it’s the story of how, one by one, like soldiers switching sides in the midst of battle, the major players and creditors who had been at war with the city dropped their objections and joined a “grand bargain” to save Detroit.” It was published in November, but we think it’s worthy of a re-post at year’s end.
Crain’s Detroit Business named Orr and Rhodes Newsmakers of the Year for 2014. Their work doing what many believe to be impossible earned them this titled.
USA Today, in a year-end wrap up of the single biggest news stories in all 50 states, named the bankruptcy as Michigan’s. “The nightmare is over,” they wrote.
Still, the bankruptcy didn’t solve all of the city’s problems. An Agence France-Presse piece, published in Business Insider, outlines the great progress the city has had but also makes note of problems that still lie ahead.
The venerable New York Times also points out that many questions remain to be answered as the city moves forward.
For the local take on what remains, here are the Freep’s answers to those questions.
Following the bankruptcy trial, WDET headed into Detroit’s neighborhoods with panels of city officials and neighborhood advocates. We met with residents, heard their questions, asked our own and got some answers. Here are those meetings, recorded, as they aired on WDET’s Detroit Today program. Topics: City services, public safety, blight, lighting and (inclusive) development.