| DETROIT, Sept 19
DETROIT, Sept 19 Detroit residents, city
retirees and even two city council members stood Thursday where
dozens of bankruptcy lawyers have gone before them: before
Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, arguing why their city does not
belong in bankruptcy court.
In what Judge Rhodes termed an "extraordinary" and
wide-ranging hearing, 45 people addressed the court Thursday
from among 109 individuals who had filed objections to the
bankruptcy before a deadline set by Rhodes.
The hours-long process highlighted a human element in
bankruptcy proceedings that have focused chiefly on disputes
over constitutional matters and the nuances of the Chapter 9
bankruptcy code since Detroit made its bankruptcy filing on July
The litany of impact on common citizens prompted Rhodes to
suggest Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Michigan
Governor Rick Snyder should listen to a recording of the hearing
to understand how the bankruptcy could impact the city's
residents and retirees.
"I think democracy demands nothing less than they personally
listen to what the citizens of this city said in this court
today," Rhodes said.
The individuals primarily objected on the grounds that the
law under which Snyder appointed Orr violates Michigan's
constitution, and also that the city should not be able to
reduce pension benefits for retirees.
"My fellow employees and I we feel that we are entitled to
a pension after working all this time," said William Howard, a
retiree who said he worked in the city's Water and Sewage
Department for more than 35 years and is dependent on his
"We worked on holidays, such as Christmas, New Year's and
Thanksgiving, as others enjoyed their families, working to serve
the citizens of Detroit and neighboring communities," Howard
said. "I pray that you, your honor, will object to this
With more than $18 billion in debt, Detroit filed the
largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy in July. Roughly half of
Detroit's liabilities stem from retirement benefits, including
$5.7 billion in liabilities for healthcare and other retiree
benefits and a $3.5 billion pension liability.
Sheilah Johnson, who retired from the city after 28 years of
work, told the court it would be difficult for her to pay her
bills if her $3,000 monthly pension was reduced.
Johnson choked back tears as she recalled a conversation
with her 9-year-old grandson. Referring to the control of the
city by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, an unelected official, her
grandson asked, "Grandma, are they trying to make us slaves
again?," Johnson said.
Rhodes listened attentively throughout the long stream of
testimony, granting some speakers additional time to finish
their thoughts. He even encouraged one person to submit his
lengthy testimony in writing when he was unable to finish in the
Bruce Bennett, an attorney with Jones Day representing the
city, said that though bankruptcy "is never a good thing," Orr
and the attorneys were aware that their decisions affect
residents and retirees.
"The problems are immense and are technically, enormously
complex," Bennett said. "The entire team remembers that there's
a human dimension in all of this."
Hearings to determine whether Detroit is eligible for
bankruptcy protection will begin next month. If Rhodes rules
that the city is eligible, Orr has said he hopes to submit a
restructuring plan to the court by the end of the year.