Plans detailed for new Detroit oversight board

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city's path out of bankruptcy took another step forward Friday as officials discussed details for a new financial oversight board.

The nine-member Financial Review Commission is a requirement of a financial aid package approved by the state Legislature to defray cuts to Detroit retiree pensions.

Its makeup and duties were presented Friday at what could be the final meeting of the Financial Advisory Board, installed in 2012 under the city's consent agreement with the state. The board is expected to be dissolved and the review commission to replace it, upon confirmation of Detroit's debt-cutting plan.

Woodward Avenue looking South toward downtown Detroit.

The commission's function will be broad and ensure Detroit's plan of adjustment is implemented as approved, said Ashley Gelisse, a representative with the state treasury department.

The board, to be seated upon the city's exit from bankruptcy, will be chaired by the state treasurer and include the director of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council President Brenda Jones and five appointees of the governor.

Members will be responsible for approving the city's four-year financial plan, ensuring compliance with the bankruptcy plan and potentially modifying Detroit's operational budget, Gelisse said.

The advisory board convened a day after Duggan and City Council members approved an agreement that transfers power over the city's operations and finances back to Detroit's elected leaders and retains the emergency manager to handle the bankruptcy.

The deal was finalized during marathon closed-door talks that spanned about 16 hours over three days.

Kevyn Orr on Friday provided the Financial Advisory Board with a brief overview of the deal that keeps him in charge of the bankruptcy proceeding, implementation of the plan and various settlement agreements, including a deal struck with the city's most aggressive creditor, Syncora Guarantee Inc.

"Mr. Orr will maintain control of the bankruptcy process, including the ability to continue to negotiate with creditors, manage the litigation and the like," said David Massaron, Detroit's chief assistant corporation counsel and director of transformational projects.

Orr's official removal will be effective once the city's debt-cutting bankruptcy plan is confirmed.

Testimony in Detroit's bankruptcy trial is set to resume on Monday. Orr has said he anticipates the trial will span another week or two.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will ultimately decide if the city's plan is fair and feasible. If it is approved, Rhodes will set an effective date for it to begin and that would mark the date of Orr's removal.

"All told, the next 30 to 60 days should hopefully get us to the point where the bankruptcy case comes to a conclusion in one fashion or another," Orr said.

Duggan also appeared before the advisory board Friday to present the plan for a new regional water authority and stress the dire infrastructure needs of the city's water department.

Under the plan, the city will lease infrastructure to suburban communities in exchange for a 40-year, $50 million annual fee dedicated toward system upgrades.

"It is getting worse and worse, and we cannot as elected officials, ignore this situation anymore," Duggan told the board, adding water mains are failing in every corner of the city. "This is a crisis that is the result of neglect."