Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan are scheduled to appear at an 11 a.m. news conference today to discuss Orr’s resignation and the city’s exit from bankruptcy. You can watch it live here.
Detroit’s financial emergency is over, according to Gov. Rick Snyder and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
The two men will be joined by Mayor Mike Duggan at an 11 a.m. news conference today to discuss the city’s exit from Chapter 9.
Detroit’s Financial Review Commission, created by the “grand bargain” legislation, holds its second meeting Friday. The agenda includes reviewing budget timelines and the city’s Plan of Adjustment. The panel also will discuss audit activities.
The nine-member group plans to meet at 9 a.m. in the Michigan Gaming Control Board Meeting Room at 3062 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit.
At the commission’s first meeting last week, members adopted resolutions ensuring they will comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings law.
Member Bill Martin, one of the gubernatorial appointees, appeared on WDET’s Detroit Today program and discussed the commission, its work and how it will coordinate with city officials.
A judge is allowing a challenge to Michigan’s emergency manager law to go forward in federal court in Detroit.
Filed last year, the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the law on the grounds that it violates rights of due process, voting and representative government under the U.S. Constitution. Defendants in the case are Gov. Rick Snyder and former state Treasurer Andy Dillon.
In May, Judge George Caram Steeh held a hearing in Detroit after the state moved to dismiss the lawsuit.
Now, the judge has denied the state’s request and is allowing the case to go forward on the grounds that it violates the constitution’s equal protection clause. Currently a majority of Michigan’s African-American population lives in cities that have or have had emergency managers.
In his ruling Steeh wrote that his decision should not affect Detroit’s bankruptcy case, which was brought by the city’s emergency manager acting under the power of the law being challenged.
Detroit is moving closer to exiting bankruptcy which means the state financial review commission will have a role in monitoring the city’s operations. WDET’s Sandra Svoboda talked with City Council Member James Tate about what that arrangement means for Detroit. Here’s the interview, with a full transcript below.
JAMES TATE: The role of the city council post bankruptcy is really the same role we had pre bankruptcy. We’re the stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. Now as a result of the bankruptcy and restructuring those billions of dollars, it has given us some cushion. Not cushion to have and play and have a great time with. But really to put toward those services that have been so desperately diminished over the years.
SANDRA SVOBODA: You’re going to have plenty of eyes on you as you proceed, specifically the Financial Review Commission that was part of the state legislation. Tell me about how that group will interact with the city council.
TATE: The financial review group, they’re going to basically provide that oversight. They’re not over the day-to-day operations as I mentioned previously, as the mayor and the city council, we’re still in charge of the city but we’re going to have to make sure we provide them with reports. Those reports are going to have to be vetted. That’s why it’s important to have – and I know it became somewhat of an issue with the judge — it’s important to have council president as well as the mayor on that team because they’re able to advocate and express clearly so there’s no ambiguity as to what those plans are and what we have in those budgets. If it were my choice, would we not have the group there? Absolutely. You want to be able to govern freely without having someone peeking over your shoulder. But ultimately we’re looking at this as making the best of the situation that we’re in.
SVOBODA: Do your colleagues on city council hold generally that opinion or is there more of a spectrum of support or opposition for the financial review commission or more opposition than you seem to have?
TATE: We really haven’t had that conversation, if others feel the same way as I do. When you start looking at the actions of this particular city council, this group is very realistic about looking at the situation that we’re in. We can scream and moan and complain about the fact that there is a financial review commission there. That won’t result in much but a lot of noise being made but I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of complaints about the situation because the reality is they’re here and I think the goal is to do everything we can to get the commission to no longer be here.
SVOBODA: Characterize for me what the bankruptcy process was able to change relative to the city council’s role that will prevent another financial crisis from happening.
TATE: It’s hard to say because there wasn’t one thing that created our financial burden that we were under, our financial stress, financial burden, financial crisis. It was a number of different things that took place. Ultimately the argument can be held that there are several layers of oversight that will ensure that not just city council but the city as a whole that the decision makers will not make those detrimental financial deals that will drag down the city.
SVOBODA: Do we have an exit date for Kevyn Orr and what will be the biggest change in the atmosphere or environment on that day?
TATE: I don’t have that date. I’m not sure what it is. We built into the final order that he would only be here to work on the bankruptcy. Now that we’re winding that down, he is no longer effectively running the city. I will say Kevyn Orr has been definitely a lot less heavy handed than many of the other emergency managers around the country. When he came in there was a big fear that he was going be like some of the others, I mean the state, excuse, he was going to be like some of the others where he would say “OK city government, move aside. I’ll take this.” I will say to his credit that he did work with us. He did not have the expertise when it came to the city as a whole. But I don’t think that we’re going to see very much in the way the city operates and functions. We’re here now. It’s the new normal. What you see today is a government that is focused on service, ensuring that our financial challenges no longer exist in the way as they did in the past. Not to say that because of the national economy, if it changes, even the state as well because we are at the bottom end of that totem pole. But I think with Kevyn Orr exiting, you won’t see much of a difference from where we are today.
In approving Detroit’s Plan of Adjustment, bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes is allowing a group of lawsuits to go forward against the city. WDET/NextChapterDetroit.com’s Sandra Svoboda spoke with Attorney Bill Goodman about his clients, their civil rights claims against the city and what the bankruptcy judge decided about their cases.
Goodman: What Judge Rhodes did in his opinion was to say that those people who have sued the city of Detroit and Detroit police officers and other Detroit public officials for violations of their constitutional rights may not go forward in those actions against the city of Detroit itself. The city of Detroit itself can only be sued under this federal civil rights statute for its policies, its practices, its customs. Those cases cannot go forward. But the cases against the individual officers can go forward, the bankruptcy proceeding does not impede those cases from going forward. People can rectify to some extent the wrongs that were done to them, that they can get justice in that way, and the city has to indemnify those police officers. That is if one of my clients sues a Detroit police officer and gets a million-dollar verdict, the city itself has to pay for that police officer’s verdict so that the police officer himself or herself cannot be personally attacked for that.
Svoboda: And when you say they have civil rights complaints, civil rights claims, tell me a little bit about what some of these cases involve.
Goodman: Really, our flagship example is Walter Swift, a man who spend 26 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit and that everyone knows he didn’t commit and was exonerated and released. Still, he has been waiting since this bankruptcy, has been waiting before, cannot go forward with his case, cannot get justice, is personally impoverished and has had his life taken from him. He’s one example. There are others. There are people who have been falsely arrested at raids conducted by the Detroit police department.
Svoboda: So most of what he hear from Judge Rhodes and what we report about the bankruptcy have to do with these complex financial settlements or bankruptcy law itself. Where do these individuals fall within this case?
Goodman: They’re what’s called unliquidated creditors. They’re like anybody whose garbage can was destroyed by a garbage truck and said, you know, “Hey, you guys have to pay for this” Or someone who was in a bus accident. That’s who they are. The difference that they have and that we have asserted is these people are people whose constitutional rights have been violated. And the constitution of the United States in a democracy should be supreme. It should not fall under the wheels of a bankruptcy proceeding.
Svoboda: But Judge Rhodes disagreed with you in his ruling on that piece of it.
Goodman: And I disagree with Judge Rhodes, right back at him.
Svoboda: But your cases now can go forward because in confirming the Plan of Adjustment, as you described at the beginning, discussed how the individual cases could proceed. What’s next for you?
Goodman: Next for us is that our cases start proceeding. In Walter Swift’s case we start taking depositions. We go forward. We go to trial if we need to, and Walter gets to present his case to a jury and have a jury decide whether he’s right or not. That’s how we go, and our case is based upon what he said, and I’m looking for his written opinion. I take it that the stay of proceedings in those cases is going to be lifted as to the individual cops.
Svoboda: What’s the legal history for these claims and how does it play in to the greater legal sense going forward?
Goodman: The Civil Rights Act under which these people have brought their claims is called Section 1983 of the federal code 42 USC. It really is known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and it was passed, it was really originally passed in 1866 just at the time the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed. It was passed during a period of huge turmoil in the United States, of the Ku Klux Klan riding high, a birth of a nation racism rampant throughout much of the nation, and it was meant to correct that and hold public officials responsible for what they did. That need, that impulse is still of critical importance not just in 1871, not just in 1961 when that law was made to be really effective by the United States Supreme Court. But today, we need to have a rule of law, and in the United States, in a democracy which we claim to be, that means under the United States Constitution.