Was Detroit’s Bankruptcy Filing The Right Decision? A Look Back Five Years Later With A Member Of The EM Team

Bill Nowling weighs in on the costs, benefits, and regrets of the bankruptcy.

Jake Neher/WDET

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy filing.

We’ve talked a lot about the bankruptcy this week with reporters, retirees, and others who have examined the case and how the city has been doing since. 

Now, we hear from Bill Nowling, a member of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s team during the restructuring. Nowling is a communications and PR specialist and current partner with Lambert Edwards and Associates, a Michigan PR firm.

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson asks Nowling if he thinks the bankruptcy was successful. 

“From a financial standpoint, the city is on good footing, and that was the whole purpose of the bankruptcy,” says Nowling. “[The plan of adjustment allowed us to] get rid of the promises we can’t keep, and replace them with promises that we can keep.”

He says restructuring was inevitable for Detroit.

“The situation that Detroit found itself in at the end of the 90s and in the early 2000s was 70 years in the making,” says Nowling, who says it’s going to be some time before “the resurgence” reaches across the entire city.

Nowling also expresses some regret about the handling of communication with the public.

“I think that we needed to have more community input and more community involvement… that was our own fault for wanting to limit that,” says Nowling. “What we learned in this process is people can take bad news. People can’t take public officials lying to them.”

To hear more for Nowling, as well as Shikha Dalmia and Ron Fournier, on Detroit five years after bankruptcy, click on the audio player above.


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