Critics of Michigan’s emergency manager law and Detroit’s bankruptcy pledged this morning to keep up their fight against what they called an illegal and immoral attack on a predominantly African American city.
The groups alleged that the city’s bankruptcy exit plan unfairly benefits financial institutions on the backs of retirees of modest means and the poor.
Members of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and other activist groups said at a news conference at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Corktown that Detroit’s bankruptcy amounted to wealthy banks and other investors getting off easily while impoverished Detroiters face deep sacrifices, including losing homes, access to affordable water and cuts to pensions and health care.
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Monica Lewis-Patrick of the group We the People of Detroit spoke out against bankruptcy deals that reduced pensions and health care for city workers and retirees while giving creditors valuable city real estate and putting city assets such as Belle Isle and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department under control of the state or regional authorities.
She called the city’s Chapter 9 filing by emergency manager Kevyn Orr with the approval of Gov. Rick Snyder a “contrived and rogue bankruptcy that was created as a way to commandeer and control the future of the citizens of Detroit.”
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes on Friday approved the city’s plan of adjustment, the blueprint for Detroit to emerge from the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Orr remains emergency manager until the effective date of the city’s plan, likely before the end of the year, while Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council have control over the city’s operations but with state fiscal oversight in place.
“We do not consent to Gov. Snyder, Mayor Duggan, and Judge Rhodes leading the nation to believe that the leadership of this city, of this community, is unfit to lead ourselves,” Lewis-Patrick said.
The groups were sharply critical of local media coverage of the bankruptcy and Rhodes’ approval of the plan of adjustment. The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman of St. Peter’s said Rhodes’ legacy will be that he “gave sanction to illegitimate and unconstitutional government, and successfully prevented that illegitimate government from being challenged in court.”
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Wylie-Kellerman invoked biblical principles about caring for the poor and vulnerable, “which is to say that judges and governors, managers and their mayors, banks and corporations, foundations and even the corporate media stand under the judgment of God. … I won’t pretend to know that judgment. I know the character of it, and I know that all of them will be held accountable for how they served the human community, and that’s measured by how the poor and the least are treated.”
Spokesmen for Snyder and Duggan had no immediate comment today on the allegations. Orr spokesman Bill Nowling pointed out that Rhodes ruling confirmed that “bankruptcy was the only solution for the problems of the city,” but he declined further comment.
Rhodes does not discuss the case with the media but addressed anger among Detroiters in his ruling on Friday.
“A large number of you told me that you were angry that your city was taken away from you and put into bankruptcy,” Rhodes read from the bench. “You told me in your court papers. You told me in your statements in court. You told me in your blogs, letters, and protests. I heard you. I urge you now not to forget your anger. Your enduring and collective memory of what happened here, and your memory of your anger about it, will be exactly what will prevent this from ever happening again. It must never happen again. When Fredia Butler testified during the confirmation hearing, she quoted the great wisdom of Marian Wright Edelman, who said, ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport.’ And so I ask you, for the good of the city’s fresh start, to move past your anger. Move past it and join in the work that is necessary to fix this city. Help your city leaders do that. It is your city.”
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Detroit Water and Sewerage Department retiree William Davis, a member of the Detroit Active and Retired City Employees Association, said he and others in his group were formulating appeals of Rhodes ruling. He said the pension settlement in the bankruptcy cost him $100,000, and many of his fellow DWSD retirees lost $50,000-$150,000, money they counted on to pay bills in retirement and send their kids to college.
Davis, an African American, said black Detroiters are bearing the brunt of the bankruptcy, and few seem to care.
“I personally think they all need to go to jail,” Davis said of the leaders behind the bankruptcy. “We think this whole process is illegal and just wrong.”
Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @matthelms.