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.
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, Wayne State’s public radio station, and its partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative will continue exploring the city’s recovery from bankruptcy and ongoing financial issues with an additional $500,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Launched at the beginning of 2014 with funding from Knight Foundation and Ford Foundation through funding to ZeroDivide on behalf of Renaissance Journalism, the partnership also includes convening partner Bridge Magazine, Detroit Public Television, Michigan Radio and New Michigan Media.
The DJC reports on Detroit’s bankruptcy and engages the community around the city’s revitalization. As a unique news-sharing project, the DJC focuses on outreach and enterprise, explanatory and solutions-oriented journalism. The partners’ work is showcased on the NextChapterDetroit.com website, which focuses on bankruptcy-related news.
By empowering and connecting the voices of Detroit’s residents with watchdog coverage needed to help citizens better solve their individual and collective issues, the DJC has sought to inspire dialogue and improve public policy to increase Detroit’s chances of recovery.
“Detroit’s continued success hinges on engaging residents to contribute to its growth and be part of the reinvention of the city,” says Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program director for Detroit. “By better informing people and opening avenues for them to help solve some of the challenges facing our city, the cooperative is helping to secure a brighter future for Detroit.”
In its first year, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative published hundreds of stories, blog posts and special reports as the city weaved its way through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. In 2014, partner content earned more than 175,000 unique visitors. DJC journalists also regularly appeared on broadcast programs, averaging some 200,000 listeners and viewers per week.
“The Detroit Journalism Cooperative is a terrific example of how collaboration by news organizations can have a positive impact on coverage and communities,” says Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.
The new support will continue the work of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative into 2016.
“The Detroit Journalism Cooperative partners have a long history of working together,” says John Bebow, president and CEO of The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. “Knight Foundation’s pioneering investment has formalized that collaboration. The cooperative had a good first year, but we’re just hitting our stride in terms of providing revelatory, forward-looking, multimedia coverage of Detroit, its neighborhoods, its businesses and its residents. The DJC is an innovative media public service for Detroit and the nation to understand and overcome the challenges faced by America’s traditional urban centers.”
In mid-April, Detroit Journalism Cooperative content created by WDET and Bridge Magazine earned 26 awards (including eight for Detroit Journalism Cooperative projects) in the annual Society of Professional Journalists Detroit chapter journalism competition. Those awards included first and second place in radio investigative reporting, first and third place for radio breaking news, second place for online blogging, second place for digital media presentation, third place in watchdog reporting, and honorable mention for online feature writing.
Earlier this year, WDET won “Public Radio Station of the Year” and collected 10 individual category awards in the Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB) Broadcast Excellence Awards for work in 2014. Several pieces related to Detroit’s bankruptcy case and future revitalization were honored, including broadcasts of two of the 12 community meetings the station held around the city.
DPTV and Michigan Radio also won MAB awards for DJC-related work. The State Bar of Michigan recognized WDET’s Sandra Svoboda, Courtney Hurtt and Joan Isabella for the station’s bankruptcy coverage with a McCree Award for the Advancement of Justice.
In addition, WDET’s Sandra Svoboda’s DJC work inspired the Wayne State University Graduate Public Administration program to name her its 2015 Distinguished Alumnus.
As Detroit has emerged from municipal bankruptcy, the DJC’s coverage has shifted to focus intensely on the challenges and opportunities in the city’s many neighborhoods.
Support for the DJC is one part of Knight’s efforts to help public news organizations establish long-term sustainability and advance excellence in journalism. Knight has made various other investments in the space, including the $5 million Knight Local Media Initiative, which has supported more than 50 organizations to date in developing new innovations in media.
About Detroit Journalism Cooperative
To focus on community life and the city’s future after bankruptcy, five nonprofit media outlets have formed The Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). The Center for Michigan’sBridge Magazine is the convening partner for the group, which includes Michigan Radio, Detroit Public Television (DPTV), WDET and New Michigan Media, a partnership of ethnic and minority newspapers.
Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’sMichigan 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.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more information, please visit knightfoundation.org.
Judge Steven Rhodes says he wishes the court proceedings would have been broadcast live so that the public could have had better access to them. If the media had asked, he says he would have “likely” approved the request. Now retired, Rhodes spoke at a breakfast in Ann Arbor.
During Detroit’s bankruptcy trial, Martha Kopacz served as the judge’s “expert witness” to help him assess whether the city’s restructuring plan would be feasible for the city after it exited bankruptcy. Now Kopacz is advising the Financial Review Commission. That’s the nine-member panel that includes the mayor, the city council president and several members the governor appoints. Here’s more from WDET.
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.
The Detroit City Council wants a pay raise, but the Detroit Elected Official Compensation Commission needs to approve it. WDET’s Bre-Anna Tinsley reports Commission Chairman Buzz Thomas wants to know if any salary changes will impact the Plan of Adjustment that allowed Detroit to emerge for bankruptcy. Here’s her report.in WDET
It’s nice to be recognized!
With gratitude to our sources, readers, listeners, those involved in the case and our other supporters, WDET is the proud recipient of 10 individual category awards in the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Broadcast Excellence Awards for work in 2014.
The station also won “Public Radio Station of the Year,” a huge honor!
Several pieces related to Detroit’s bankruptcy case and future revitalization were among the entries. The complete list of the station’s honored projects is below. Our partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, Detroit Public Television and Michigan Radio, also received awards in the annual contest.
And now we go back to work. Congratulations to all!
BEST in Community Involvement Category
The NextChapterDetroit.com “Community Lighting” meeting broadcast on Detroit Today.
BEST in Hard News and Current Events Story
BEST in Marketing Materials
For Kevyn Orr and the “Love Train” on Detroit Today
BEST in Membership Appeal
This is What Pat Says – Spring 2014
BEST in Special Interest/Cultural Programming
“Blue Collar Musicians”
BEST in Newscast
Morning Newscast 8-12-14
MERIT in Community Involvement
The NextChapterDetroit.com “Blight” meeting broadcast on Detroit Today.
MERIT in Membership Appeal
MERIT in Mini Documentary or Series
Detroit Agenda Series
MERIT in Station of the Year
This week Detroit city retirees begin to see reductions in pension benefits — cuts enacted as part of Detroit’s exit from bankruptcy. Most retirees will see a 4.5 percent cut to their monthly pension payments. WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter has this report.