The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the nominees for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District — a regional board that manages storm and sewage water — a list of questions to find their view on a range of important issues facing the region.
Republican nominee for a six-year term, R. Cary Capparelli, explained why he’s running in the video above and submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
What skills and qualities will you look for in hiring a new MWRD general superintendent?
Capparelli: In no particular order: discipline, experience, independence, integrity, and motivation are all integral components (qualities and skills) to any governmental job and the MWRD general superintendent in particular.
Should large landowners be billed for how much water runs off their properties?
Capparelli: This is a tricky answer because it is somewhat dependent on comparing a property’s original natural condition to man-made revisions. Per se, if a property was altered from its natural physical appearance than that landowner must assume responsibility, such as negative results from water run off, caused by man-made renovations. At the same time, understandably, a landowner may ultimately seek tax credits for alterations made that improved conditions such as water run offs.
Who is R. Cary Capparelli?
His political/civic background
Past Member-Illinois International Port District (governor-appointed), 2000-2009, Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Chairman of the Marketing Committee, Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, Member of the Executive Committee
Past Member-Illinois Banking and Real Estate Board (governor-appointed), 1997-1999
President – OMNI-Communique Inc. (management and marketing entity) Instructor in Geography (online) – South Dakota State University
PhD – Birkbeck College, University of London (Geography and Environmental Studies)
M.A. – Northeastern Illinois University (Geography and Environmental Studies)
M.S.J. – Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University (Advertising)
B.A.J. – School of Journalism, Drake University (Public Relations)
Campaign website: www.rcarycapparelli.com
The MWRD has just parted ways with its director, paying a nearly $100,000 settlement package. The public has been told very little about what happened. What should have been done differently?
Capparelli: While a $100,000 settlement package may be acceptable in the private sector, settlement packages, in my opinion, are not typically palatable in good government. The public affairs/public relations department of the MWRD had a responsibility to effectively report this incident and identify all officials responsible for its approval with justification.
What is the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District?
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District guards the safety of our water source (Lake Michigan), protects businesses and homeowners from flooding and operates seven plants to treat industrial and residential wastewater. Its boundary is 883.5 square miles, roughly Cook County – and serves 5.25 million people.
Buildings continue to go up that put more water into combined sewers during storms. Is a stronger storm water management ordinance needed? What would that be?
Capparelli: The existing storm water management ordinance and its long range plan are designed to take the District forward well into this century. Phase 2 (Reservoirs) will not be completed into 2029, so it is reasonably to conclude both legislation and long-term physical capabilities are in place to suffice demands on the system; particularly with a declining population in the city and county. In short, the MWRD needs to better manage its existing assets, its people and its physical properties, to be more efficient.
Should the MWRD’s disinfection system be expanded? Is cost a concern?
Capparelli: First, it should be noted that ‘too much’ disinfection is not safe. At the same time, disinfection is also needed and should be expanded based on safe need. There may not be an immediate or long-term need; however, if so, cost is always a concern. Environmental concern and a fiscal accountability can be compatible and will be a major part of my platform.
What new ideas would you bring to the district?
Capparelli: My education and professional experience, complimented by integrity, would be unsurpassed if elected to the MWRD board. Most importantly, I would act as its only independent member prepared to challenge the city hall ‘machine politics’ that has dominated this board for over 50 years.
News reports have revealed that MWRD contracts have gone to businesses that have donated to at least one of the district’s commissioners. Is this acceptable? What should the rule be? Would you accept such donations?
Capparelli: Large contracts and connected government officials, unfortunately, have been the staple of Chicago-area politics for decades. This kind of behavior is never acceptable and rules need not only to be iron-clad to prohibit such and its layers but enacted to prevent such donations from ever taking place. Personally I would not accept such donations and allow myself to be influenced with dishonest voting.
Should there be an independent and adequately funded inspector general’s office at the MWRD?
Capparelli: Indeed, based on its history, the MWRD needs an adequately funded inspector general’s office to ‘clean up’ past discrepancies and establish a strong policy for accountability and sustainability moving forward.
Because the MWRD must deal with the impact of extreme rain events, how big a role should it play in lobbying other governments, such as the state or federal governments, on climate issues?
Capparelli: Realistically lobbying should be unnecessary as our elected officials should all be directly working for, unhindered, in the public’s best interest. The culture of lobbying can be redirected as a responsibility of those elected to do their respective job by being prepared to seek state and federal monies based on its obligation to the taxpayers.
How do you foresee the MWRD eliminating all combined sewer overflows?
Capparelli: This past spring, the $1 billion upgrade, the McCook Reservoir, fell short of its expectancy to hold wastewater. This shortfall exposed an abundance of potential future problems in this capacity that now requires the Board to fix or find new solutions. Lake Michigan remains our biggest resource and must protected and never compromised. The Chicago River is systematically connected to Lake Michigan which compounds this situation.
This leaves a very serious problem where we must be environmentally concerned and find a monetary input to curb all sewage overflows. This is an area where the MWRD can work with local municipalities to find temporary answers until a more permanent solution is operational. As Commissioner, I can only endorse ‘green’ ideas and seek monies at the federal levels, if possible, to find a permanent correction so not to cause burden to taxpayers.
Is the MWRD responsible for combined sewer discharges by Chicago and other municipalities?
Capparelli: The MWRD is responsible for all sewage discharge by the City of Chicago and all other municipalities comprised within its district. Furthermore, the MWRD has additional responsibilities to work, within reason, with bordering municipalities outside the District (as far as Milwaukee to our north for example) to create a safer environment far beyond the District.
Is the MWRD doing enough to buy up buildings in flood plains to reduce the cost and damage of flooding?
Capparelli: This idea is extraordinary and may not be practical. There are two budgetary items to consider to answer this question: 1) the cost to purchase buildings and property, and 2) the cost to bring such parcels into flood reduction condition. However, long term planning can possibly allow this idea to become fruition at some point.
According to its 2018 Report, the MWRDGC owns about 9,500 acres of land; mostly along the waterways. Less than one-quarter of the land is vacant. The balance is being used by the District or leased for other corporate use (leasing is also employed at the Illinois International Port).
As Commissioner, at this time, I would be against selling the property for private development or transferring to abutting municipalities. Transferring property to municipalities, which can have merit, can display bias and should be avoided. This land should be conserved and protected. I’d be open to cooperate with the Cook County Forest Preserve District to transform and maintain these areas into a natural park form that can be enjoyed by the public. However, buying property can be a difficult task given its economics but definitely can have a positive impact on our environment.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.