Detroit's new financial monitors meet for the first time

Nov 13, 2014

The group tasked with making sure post-bankruptcy Detroit stays solvent met for the first time Wednesday.

The nine-member Detroit financial review commission will serve as the last word on the city’s financial decisions for at least three years.

The panel will review and approve all city budgets, major contracts and collective bargaining agreements during that “control period.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan sits on the commission, and says he plans to attend every meeting during that time.

“Two things are going to happen,” Duggan said. “One thing is, the public is going to be reassured that the finances are being handled responsibly. The other thing is, I expect we’ll get advice from experienced people on different strategies.

"So I think this is going to work out well all the way around.”

But Wayne State University law professor Peter Hammer urged the panel to take a more “critical perspective” that goes beyond finances, and looks at the larger context of Detroit’s troubles.

“If you’re not getting to the root causes, I don’t think you’re going to get to a constructive solution,” said Hammer, who believes any plan  to move Detroit beyond bankruptcy should consider what he calls the “three r’s:” “The notion[s] of race, regionalism, and reconciliation. [If] You don’t have a map to how we got here, and you don’t have a map to get out of here.”

Even if Detroit does manage to exit the formal control period after the minimum three years, the commission will likely stick around for decades to monitor the city’s financial situation—much like the New York state financial control board that oversaw New York City's finances for years after it nearly went bankrupt in 1975.

The financial review commission was established in state law as part of the “grand bargain” legislation that’s an integral part of Detroit’s bankruptcy plan of adjustment--which the board is broadly tasked with making sure the city adheres to.

Seven of the nine panel members are either state officials, or appointees of Gov. Snyder. Duggan and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones have the two remaining seats.