When a city files for bankruptcy there are a lot of legal discussions about what should be done and how to handle the situation. These conversations are typically handled by lawyers and city officials but last week individuals were given the opportunity to speak their minds.
According to an article in Reuters 109 individuals filed objections to the City of Detroit bankruptcy. On Thursday September 19th, 45 of those individuals had the opportunity to address the court. They were each given 3 minutes, exactly 180 seconds to plead their case.
This was a rare opportunity after a city files for bankruptcy, for the lawyers to sit back and listen, and for the individuals to speak.
Here are a few of the stories presented to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes:
ABC News reported the experience of Jean Vortkamp:
"Another Detroit resident, Jean Vortkamp, got emotional as she described the bleak state of city services. She said the body of a young homicide victim remained on her street for five hours before being removed.
"Detroit is not an airline or a cupcake company. We are a family that deserves respect," Vortkamp told the judge."
Reuters reported the presentation by Sheliah Johnson:
“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.“
Reuters also shared the story of William Howard:
"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 pension.
"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 bankruptcy.”
Bloomberg shared the story of Cynthia Blair:
"Cynthia Blair, the widow of a Detroit police officer, told Rhodes she fears that if the city cuts her pension, she and her children won’t be able to pay their bills. Blair’s husband left her a pension of $3,000 a month, she said.
“We would be thrown out on the street” without the pension, Blair said."
William Hickey’s words were quoted by ABC News:
"I call on you to protect these flesh-and-blood people … over corporations who preyed on the city of Detroit and knew better," said William Hickey, a resident for more than 50 years who tends community gardens."
In addition to sharing personal stories many of the individuals spoke out about Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, and the way he was appointed.
Rhodes was generous with time and let some individuals go over their 3 minute time period. One person’s objections were so long that Rhodes encouraged him to submit them to the court in writing so they could be heard.
The common theme is that when a city files for bankruptcy, every resident of the city feels the effects.
Now that Rhodes has heard the objections of the individuals from the City of Detroit he will next hear from creditors that have legal representation. Hearings will begin next month to determine if Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy protection.
For more information on the City of Detroit bankruptcy, read our recent article: City of Detroit Bankruptcy: What Went Wrong?
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