Federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes took his long-awaited tour of the city of Detroit on Friday.
He rode Detroit Department of Transportation bus No. 1246, a new hybrid-powered model, with 14 other officials from the bankruptcy case. The bus was staffed with federal Marshals as protection and there were unmarked cars escorting the bus.
Watch web extra: Bankruptcy judge's bus tour of Detroit
The reasoning for the 58-mile, 3-hour-and-15-minute tour of the city was Detroit’s legal team felt pictures do not adequately depict the city's problems. The tour was designed and hosted by Pepper Hamilton attorney Robert Hertzberg, who is a native Detroiter. He said Judge Rhodes asked no questions and took no notes throughout the tour. He was observed by another city attorney carefully looking at all he could take in.
Hertzberg said he wanted to show the judge the good, bad and ugly of Detroit and felt he accomplished his mission. Among the neighborhoods Judge Rhodes looked at were Brightmoor, Palmer Park and the Heidelberg Project. He only got off the bus twice -- once to take a walking tour of Detroit police Precinct 5/9th on the city’s east side and again at the Detroit Institute of Arts where he looked at the Diego Rivera autoworker murals and the Van Gogh paintings in one of the viewing rooms just around the corner from the murals.
Though highly unusual, the tour is considered a “hearing” and the exercise was a presentation of evidence that was recorded on video tape for the court record. Hertzberg said the tour was relevant because the city’s bankruptcy case relies on blight remediation, reinvestment in neighborhoods and improvements in police and other public safety functions.
The 5/9th precinct is in particularly bad repair. Hertzberg also said while he does not know for certain where in the city the judge may have travelled in the past he felt it vitally important to his case to get a firsthand look at the scope of the city’s problems.
“This was not a blight tour,” Hertzberg said, but he also wanted the judge to know “that there is not just one pocket of blight."
On the bus were Judge Rhodes, two staffers, several representatives from the city including former City Council member and current Chief of Government Operations Gary Brown, a representative from Oakland County and attorneys from objector bond insurers FGIC, Syncora and Assured Guarantee.