Detroit bankruptcy

Detroit bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes.
John Meiu / Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC

During a brief hearing this morning in U.S. bankruptcy court, Judge Steven Rhodes declared his intention to make a final ruling on Detroit's plan to get out of bankruptcy.

Rhodes said he'll make his decision during the first week of November.

His announcement comes after the city announced that it had reached a deal with one of its last remaining major creditors. The Financial Guaranty Insurance Company will no longer oppose Detroit's plan to exit bankruptcy under the terms of a deal reached at 2:30 in the morning last week.

FGIC, which stood to lose $1.1 billion, agreed to terms that gives the company the right to develop the area where the Joe Louis Arena and parking garage now stand. The deal also gave them millions of dollars in credits for future purchases and city notes.

Rod Meloni of WDIV-TV was in court this morning live-blogging. He wrote about what we can expect next for the days remaining in Detroit's bankruptcy trial:

The Detroit Institute of Arts

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss big name politicians stopping in Michigan to campaign for local candidates, the latest development in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial, and GM’s record global sales despite a dismal week on Wall Street.

When you look back at the long history of Detroit, yesterday may not have been quite as significant as July 24, 1701.

That was the day Cadillac and his men beached their canoes, scrambled up the riverbank near where the Cobo Center now stands, and started building a fort. But yesterday comes somewhat close.

Yesterday was the day the last major holdout creditor came to terms with the city, in a way that should help improve the city’s chances to make it after the bankruptcy process ends.

This also seems to remove the last threat facing the Detroit Institute of Arts. Financial Guaranty Insurance Company will get the land where Joe Louis Arena now sits, the place where the Red Wings play and where, 34 years ago, I saw Ronald Reagan nominated for President. Eventually, when a new hockey arena opens, this will be torn down and a gleaming new luxury riverfront hotel built here, surrounded by condos and some new retail.


Detroit has reached a settlement with its last major holdout creditor in bankruptcy court.

Bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation holds $1.1 billion in Detroit debt. It insured a bad deal on city pension debt whose legality has been questioned.

FGIC had been the city’s last big foe in bankruptcy court. By signing onto the plan of adjustment Detroit has proposed to restructure its debts, it’s removed another hurdle slowing down the city’s exit from bankruptcy.

After a week-long recess, Detroit’s bankruptcy trial resumed Tuesday.

City lawyers spent more than two weeks making their case for Detroit’s proposed plan of adjustment to restructure its debts in bankruptcy. They rested last week.

Now, objecting creditors get their chance to argue that plan doesn’t meet the requirements of the municipal bankruptcy code.

Laura Bartell, a professor of bankruptcy law at Wayne State University, said the trial has gone “swimmingly” for the city so far.

If you love the Detroit Institute of Arts, and supported the “Grand Bargain” to save it, then you should be grateful that what surfaced this week wasn’t known a few months ago.

Specifically, the whopping raises and bonuses paid to Graham Beal, the director of the DIA, and Annmarie Erickson, the museum’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Two years ago, Beal, whose compensation is over half a million dollars a year, got a 13% raise. Erickson, who got a promotion and new responsibilities, got a 36% raise.

Trish P. / Flickr

All through the Detroit bankruptcy trial, the spotlight has been fixed on the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It has become one of the most contentious and confusing issues in the bankruptcy, as the appraisals of the DIA’s treasures have been wildly different. The city’s appraisal by Christie’s came in at just over $800 million, while an appraisal done by noted expert Victor Wiener pegs the value at more than $8 billion.

Beverly Jacoby is a noted art valuation expert who recently had an op-ed piece in the Detroit Free Press. She's the founder and president of BSJ Fine Art in New York.

Jacoby says there are several reasons for the wildly different values. Jacoby says an appraisal can vary depending on the party that commissions it. “A key issue with any appraisal is the appraiser is hired by a party and that party is the intended user," she says.  

The city of Detroit wrapped up its case in bankruptcy court today, with Detroit’s two top elected officials as the final witnesses.

Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones both took the stand.

Their testimony is key, because the city needs to convince Judge Steven Rhodes that its proposed plan of adjustment is feasible—and that city leaders will work together to execute it post-bankruptcy.

Jones had publicly opposed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, and his decision to file for bankruptcy.

Mitt Romney
(courtesy of

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss Mitt Romney’s recent Michigan visit, billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert’s testimony in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial and allegations that Ferndale police are issuing a disproportionate number of tickets to black drivers. 

Sam Beebe

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr will continue testifying today in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial.

Orr, a bankruptcy lawyer, took the stand for the first time Wednesday afternoon. He’s the main architect of Detroit’s bankruptcy restructuring plan, formally known as a plan of adjustment.

That plan is ultimately what’s on trial; Judge Steven Rhodes needs to approve it for the city to emerge from bankruptcy.

But while Orr is a crucial witness for the city, there was nothing particularly new or noteworthy about his initial testimony.

State of Michigan

As of Friday morning Detroit’s elected officials are back in charge of city operations—but Kevyn Orr is still technically the city’s emergency manager.

That’s because Detroit officials have approved a deal stripping Orr of most of his powers.

In the deal approved by the City Council and Mayor Mike Duggan Thursday, Orr will stay on as emergency manager until Detroit exits bankruptcy.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr speaking at the University of Michigan.
U of M

After voters rejected the state's old emergency manager law in November 2012, Michigan lawmakers quickly came up with a replacement.

State-appointed emergency managers could still take control over local governments and school boards, but under the new law, they could do so for a limited amount of time. 

The new law, Public Act 436, allows for local governments to end a state-appointed emergency manager's term after 18 months. From the law:

If the emergency manager has served for at least 18 months after his or her appointment under this act, the emergency manager may, by resolution, be removed by a 2/3 vote of the governing body of the local government. If the local government has a strong mayor, the resolution requires strong mayor approval before the emergency manager may be removed. 

Orr started work as Detroit's emergency manager on March 28, 2013, so his 18 months is up in the next few days.

Almost everyone thought Detroit City Council and Mayor Duggan would vote to end Orr's appointment, but with Detroit's bankruptcy process wrapping up in court, the talk has changed.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has joined private, ongoing talks between Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council about his future.

Under Michigan’s emergency manager law, the City Council could vote to remove Orr this week – but only if Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder agree.

The parties have been meeting in closed session since Tuesday to discuss a transition plan. No one has been willing to speak publicly about those discussions.

Judge Steven Rhodes said he'll rule next Monday whether to put a temporary halt to Detroit's controversial water shutoffs.

Witness testimony continued in federal bankruptcy court Tuesday with hearings to determine the fate of that policy.

A coalition of Detroit residents and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s controversial shutoff policy on constitutional and civil rights grounds.

Col. Frank J. Hecker House in Detroit
User: Werewombat / Wikimedia Commons

DETROIT - A Plano, Texas, company has been hired to give Detroit a clear picture of how much individual properties in the city are worth.

Tyler Technologies Inc. says its appraisal arm will compile data on real property in the city. It says Detroit has not completed a full reappraisal of real property in more than 50 years.

A spokesman for emergency manager Kevyn Orr says Tyler's CLT Appraisal Services unit will give the city a "more accurate assessment of property values." Bill Nowling says the city will use it to "create more accurate property tax bills."

Mayor Mike Duggan said earlier this year that the city would lower property tax bills by reassessing home values. He says high, unrealistic property assessments have angered city residents and forced many from their homes.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss the possibility of new teachers losing their pensions, the latest in the Detroit bankruptcy trial, and how Aramark is under fire again.

Many years ago, I met Thomas Friedman, the distinguished New York Times journalist who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Middle East by the time he was 35.

When I told him that I regarded his reporting as indispensable, he told me something I’ll never forget. He said “don’t read my stories every day.”  That startled me, and I asked what he meant.

He went on: “Daily journalists covering a beat have to produce a story just about every day.” That’s partly because everybody doesn’t always read everything. But if you look closely, you’ll see that much of the time, much of the daily stories are repetitious.

Bank of the Oise at Auvers by Van Gogh, owned by the DIA
user: Maia C / Flickr


As the Detroit bankruptcy trial moves into its third week, the spotlight has often been trained on the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The discussion over whether the DIA can and should be forced to sell its treasures to help offset Detroit's insolvency has been one of the most hotly debated issues of the bankruptcy.

DIA director Graham Beal recently wrote a letter that was published in the museum's newsletter and then posted on Deadline Detroit under the headline "Museums Should Step Very Carefully 'In Times Of Crisis.'"

Here's an excerpt of the letter:

In the Great Depression, the DIA remained open and staffed, largely thanks to the secret support of Edsel Ford. The city of Detroit arts commissioners could have sold the van Gogh self-portrait, Matisse's The Window, Ruisdael's Jewish Cemetery, or even Breugel's Wedding Dance, but the thought never seems to have crossed anyone's mind.

user memories_by_mike / Flickr

The pieces are falling into place for Detroit to eventually emerge from bankruptcy with a lot less of its budget-servicing debt. But the city of Detroit’s budget could still be a house of cards. Many of its revenue sources are not stable.

Bankruptcy does not mean Detroit escapes all of its money problems.

It’s heavily dependent on a city income tax. If another economic dip is around the corner, that source of revenue would shrink.

Casino taxes are stagnant.

Gerald Rosen, the bankruptcy judge in charge of mediation, issed the order today.
Detroit Legal News

One big creditor, Syncora, appears to have agreed to a deal with the city this week.

That left one very big fish to fry - the bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co.

The city owes the group more than $1 billion, and they're not walking away from the money that is owed to them without a fight.

Now the bankruptcy court overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy has ordered FGIC, along with several others, into mediation with the city.

From the order:

It is hereby ordered that, unless otherwise excused by the mediator, the above-named noticed parties shall appear, with counsel and party-representatives with full and complete settlement authority, for continuing mediation on Friday, September 12, 2014, at 10:00 a.m., and continuing day-to-day thereafter as deemed necessary, until released by the mediators…

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports that FGIC negotiators walked out of talks with the city two weeks ago.

Now, with the Syncora deal close to inked, FGIC is being compelled to try it again.

In a statement Wednesday, FGIC said the firm remains open to a good-faith settlement following the Syncora deal.

“The latest deal reinforces our view that the city has abundant sources of incremental value available ...,” the company said. “However the issue at hand is their willingness to distribute this value fairly and equitably...”

Syncora went from a deal that was going to give the company around 10 cents on the dollar, to a deal that's giving them around 26 cents on the dollar.

Aside from Syncora and FGIC, the other creditors ordered into mediation are:

  • UBS AG
  • SBS Financial Products Co., LLC
  • Merrill Lynch Capital Services, Inc.
  • Ambac Assurance Corp.
  • Black Rock Financial Management
  • Official Committee of Retirees
  • Wilmington Trust Company, National Association, as successor to U.S. Bank National Association, as Trustee and Contract Administrator

Ian Freimuth / Flickr

We saw big news out of Detroit this week: a deal over a southeast regional water authority and a tentative deal between the city and one of its largest creditors.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are back to the state capitol after their summer recess. And the two big statewide races for governor and the open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan are heating up.

Today on Stateside, we take a step back and see how these events fit together and impact one another.

Daniel Howes is a columnist with Detroit News. He says the good news in Detroit this week shows that leadership matters.

"What you're seeing here is a remarkable alignment of both political and business leadership across the state behind this Detroit bankruptcy effort," says Howes. 

Rick Pluta is the capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and co-host of It's Just Politics. He says in the next few weeks, he's watching for what Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr puts in place in his final days to set the city up for what comes next. 

"A high level of control will have to be restored to the city," says Pluta.

* Listen to our conversation with Daniel Howes and Rick Pluta on Stateside today at 3 pm. We'll post the audio around 4:30 pm.

Ian Freimuth / Flickr


Two of the loudest voices objecting to Detroit's bankruptcy adjustment plan have been bond insurers Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation, known as FGIC. Both companies were left holding the bag in a $1.4 billion pension deal, the "swaps."

Things just got much colder and bleaker for FGIC. That's because Syncora and the city have struck an 11th-hour deal.

Syncora now is willing to receive 26 cents on the dollar of what it is owed, up from 10 cents under the city's previous plan, plus a package that includes an extended lease on operation of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and a parking deal.

Detroit's riverfront.
Ian Freimuth / Flickr

Judge Steven Rhodes has suspended Detroit's bankruptcy trial until Monday so the city can work out details of a deal with one of its major creditors.

News of the potential deal broke last night. Syncora, a bond insurer, stands to lose $400 million in Detroit's bankruptcy.

Alisa Priddle of the Detroit Free Press reports the deal the city is trying to work out with Syncora would be worth 26 cents on the dollar vs. 10 cents on the dollar under the city's current plan.

More from the Freep:

Among the goodies are $23.5 million in payment in the form of B-notes; a long-term lease on a centrally located parking garage; a 20-year extension of the lease to run the U.S. side of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel to 2040; and $6.2 million in credits towards the purchase of some parcels of land in the future.

The pause in the trial also gives the city time to reach other settlements with other creditors. One of the biggest is Financial Guaranty Insurance Co.

FGIC insured a deal made under the Kwame Kilpatrick administration that shored up the city's pension liabilities.

Here's how that deal was described by the Freep last spring:

Under former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit sold the pension obligation certificates of participation to boost funding at the city’s General Retirement System and Police and Fire Retirement System to nearly 100%. The city also bought so-called swaps, or derivatives, to permanently lock in steady interest rates around 6% on the arrangement. But three years later, as the national economy tanked, interest rates plummeted, souring the deal.

Robert Snell and Christine Ferretti of the Detroit News spoke with one of Syncora's lawyers, Ryan Bennett.

Bennett said the deal before Syncora now relies on the city settling its issue with FGIC. 

Bennett said he’s not aware of any deals in the works between the city and FGIC. But the holdout creditor could benefit as well from the “shared asset pool” and that Syncora’s tentative agreement “sets a path” for FGIC, he said.

The Freep's Priddle reports that an FGIC lawyer said they need to "better understand the deal" and it will affect the witnesses he calls when the bankruptcy trial resumes next week.

*This post has been updated.

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss how  Syncora, the biggest opponent in Detroit's bankruptcy trial, has reached a tentative agreement with the city. Fox and Lessenberry also discuss Detroit's new water authority, and what to expect from the legislature in the few weeks before the November election.

Paul Hitzelberger / United Photo Works

Detroit has hammered out a deal with its fiercest foe in bankruptcy court, possibly smoothing the way for the city to leave bankruptcy quickly.

Bond insurer Syncora Guarantee, Inc. had fought the city’s proposed plan of adjustment at every turn.

That restructuring plan would have forced the company to take hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

Kate Boicourt / IAN

After months of tense mediation in bankruptcy court, Detroit and suburban leaders have finally reached a deal on the city’s water system.

The 40-year agreement between the city and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties will create the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Under the deal, Detroit will retain ownership of the whole system, and control over city operations.

The GLWA will lease and operate Detroit water system assets outside city limits. And it will pay Detroit $50 million a year to improve water infrastructure inside the city.

user rob zand / Flickr

A big piece of Detroit's bankruptcy puzzle was put in place today: the newly-created Great Lakes Water Authority, as the city finally came to agreement with Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to create a regional water authority to provide water to some 40% of Michiganders.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek says the agreement stipulates that the rate increases for all the customers will be limited to no more than 4% a year over 10 years. 

That won't necessarily mean that 4% would be the cap of the rates for all communities, since different communities set their own water rates, including taxes and surcharges. 

"How much you will actually spend depends on where you live," says Cwiek.

As Detroit gives up control of direct operation and leases out the assets that are outside the city limit, the revenue of $50 million a year is expected to be committed to capital upgrades for the Detroit water system itself. 

* Listen to the full interview with Sarah Cwiek above.

Detroit Federal Courthouse, where the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings are taking place
User: cseeman / Flickr

The historic Detroit bankruptcy trial is in its third day.

The opening salvos have been fired, and they've begun calling witnesses.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes has been at the courthouse. He says that history is unspooling in Judge Steven Rhodes' courtroom, but there’s a distinct lack of public interest.

“You go in the media overflow room, and there’s like two people sitting there … There were protesters the first day, there was none really to speak of the second day,” says Howes.

Yet it’s still a very important proceeding that’s going on here. If the city wants to win the trial and reach the "grand bargain," Howes points out, the bankruptcy team has to prove that it had done its homework and looked into alternatives to raise cash to pay creditors.

“What Syncora and FGIC  (Federal Guaranty Insurance Company) are saying is, (the bankruptcy team) didn’t even do the work. Basically they are saying they are a bunch of lazy people that had a preconceived goal in mind and didn’t even do the basic blocking-and-tackling analysis to get to the conclusion that they drew,” says Howes.

*Listent to the interview with Daniel Howes above.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

Things got heated today at Detroit's bankruptcy trial.

Syncora, a bond insurer that is arguably one of the city's biggest opponents in this trial, is coming out swinging.

And you're going to hear that name a ton during this trial, so let's recap real fast.

Who is Syncora? 

Syncora is a company. They insure bonds. They decided that they were willing to insure bonds that Detroit sold.

So they have hundreds of millions of dollars to lose here.

user andrea44 / Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry gives an overview of what's at stake in Detroit's bankruptcy trial.