Orr: Bankruptcy was painful, but offers a fresh start

Kevyn D. Orr

A fresh start. That is what the city's trip through Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy has purchased for Detroiters.

For the first time in decades, the city's books are balanced, operations are being improved and the suffocating pressure, mounting debt and obligations it cannot afford to pay have been eliminated.

But more important than all those things that have created a solvent city are the everyday services that Detroiters depend on: Trash is being picked up on time; violent crimes are down; emergency response times are quicker; lights are going back on at an astonishing rate.

Bankruptcy has allowed Detroit to regain its footing.

This has been a difficult journey. It required great sacrifices from everyone. Political and corporate agendas had to be cast aside to get to where we are today.

During my time as emergency manager, I have been humbled and inspired by ordinary Detroiters whose courage, smarts and tenacity have held this city together through decades of mismanagement, corruption and open hostility from more places than there is space to mention.

I am still moved by the image of a young girl obviously on her way to school waiting in the rain and dark for a bus that was likely late or not coming at all. Her whole life lay before her and yet every day, the inability of the city to provide basic services was throwing up road blocks to her future. This is not how a city is supposed to run.

Nor can I forget the retiree who sought out my mother at a church convention, in tears, worried that I would cut pensions to pay the city's bills. She had served Detroit diligently and earned her pension. Now the city, because of bad decisions it had made in the past, was telling her there was no more money to deliver the promises it made.

Bankruptcy was the only solution that could lift the city from its knees and put it back on the path to greatness.

Looking back, I am proud of the work of my team and the restructuring professionals who have been working around the clock, missing school pageants and anniversaries, to help Detroit. Through this whole process, Detroit has benefited from the collective minds and experience of some of the best lawyers, accountants, municipal experts and organizational professionals in the world. Many have questioned the cost, but their efforts have found $1.7 billion that can now be reinvested in making our streets safer, neighborhoods stronger, and the future brighter.

But I am equally proud of the city's workers and retirees who understood the seriousness of the city's plight and negotiated with us in good faith to find solutions they could live with and that helped the city. Their efforts don't get the attention and acknowledgment they deserve. We could not have made it out of bankruptcy without their help.

As it always the case, the list of "thank yous" is too long to put here, but there are the efforts of some that are worthy of a few laurels.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes had the thankless task of keeping the bankruptcy on the straight, narrow path and he did so with compassion for Detroiters, respect for the law and the highest level of professionalism and decorum. U.S. Chief Judge Gerald Rosen and his team of federal mediators crafted solutions that kept the bankruptcy process on schedule and protected the city. Gov. Rick Snyder never abandoned the city or caved to the political pressure to let Detroit languish; no governor has done more for this city. Foundations and philanthropic communities found creative ways to shore up pensions and preserve Detroit's treasures.

Today begins the real work. The levers of government are being returned to elected leaders. Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council president Brenda Jones and her colleagues, and the city's employees, are ready to lead Detroit and Detroiters forward into that future.

Today, Detroit again rises to its rightful place among the giants — solvent, rejuvenated and ready to function as a city should. I wish Detroiters my sincere best.

Kevyn D. Orr served as emergency manager for the city of Detroit.