Detroit bankruptcy discussion cut short by heckling
A program reflecting on the city’s progress a year out of bankruptcy was cut short Wednesday, derailed by a rowdy crowd of opponents of Detroit’s bankruptcy and other measures instituted since.
The heckling began as Gov. Rick Snyder arrived on an auditorium stage at Wayne State University to kick off the evening program “Detroit Bankruptcy: One Year Later.”
The animosity over pension cuts, water shutoffs and emergency management spilled over after the program began with opponents shouting “boos” and yelling “lies” and “rape” as Snyder attempted to answer questions.
At one point, a woman with two children stood up and shouted, “I’m not listening to these lies. I’m done,” before she stormed out. Others continued to interrupt discussions when retired bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes sat down to talk about Detroit’s accomplishments and its remaining challenges.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan had been scheduled to take the stage, but organizers decided instead to forgo his appearance and shut down the event. Before the event was interrupted, Snyder and Rhodes said Detroit was on the right path but it had more work ahead. Legacy costs that will come due when the city’s recovery plan winds down is a chief concern, they said.
The program was sponsored by WDET radio and hosted by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative and Detroit Public Television. It was led by MiWeek’s Christy McDonald, the Detroit Free Press’ Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley of The Detroit News.
Afterward, Henderson said the disruption created a lost opportunity.
“I don’t see the point in coming out to an event to disrupt, but I do understand the passion that drives those people to do what they are doing,” he said. “There is a lot of frustration still about what happened. It’s unfortunate. That’s the way it goes.”
Detroit’s bankruptcy “grand bargain” funding plan has relieved Detroit of much of the contributions to the General Retirement System and Police and Fire Retirement System through 2023. But in 2024, the city would have to start funding a substantial portion of the pension obligations to the systems from its general fund.
A firm representing the city’s two pension funds suggest the city’s required contribution to the funds in 2024 could jump by over $80 million.
The amount projected in fiscal year 2024 was contemplated at $113.9 million. But in November, the actuarial firm for Detroit’s retirement systems issued a report that suggests the contribution in 2024 would increase to about $196 million, city finance officials have said.
Snyder said Wednesday that good work was done in the bankruptcy process, but facts can change.
“It (the actuarial projection) shows a larger problem than was perceived, but that’s nine years away,” he said. “There are opportunities for action ... to address that in a constructive fashion.”
When asked if the city will be able to make them, Rhodes added he believes the city has “the right people in place to make it happen”
The city filed for Chapter 9 in the summer of 2013, and officially exited on Dec. 10, 2014, with a plan to shed $7 billion in debt and invest $1.7 billion into restructuring and city service improvements over a decade.
Just months out of bankruptcy, new bonds essential to improving Detroit city services earned an upgrade from Standards & Poor’s Rating Service, the city adopted a balanced budget and a four-year financial plan. The city has touted its progress in demolishing blighted properties, relighting neighborhoods and improving public safety equipment and response times.
Next month, the new Great Lakes Water Authority is set to take control of its water and sewer system.