Democrat Kimberly Neely Dubuclet is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate for the open 2-year term on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board.
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.
Dubuclet submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
What skills and qualities will you look for in hiring a new MWRD general superintendent?
Dubuclet: Hiring a new chief executive is among the most important—if not the most important—decisions a governance body makes. The next MWRD general superintendent should:
Focus on advancing MWRD’s commitment to the utility of the future (i.e. solar, wind, renewable energy sources), make Cook County a national leader in the implementation of green infrastructure, and help install more green space and partnerships with parks and community organizations.
Educate the residents about MWRD in general and overall stormwater management and flooding prevention.
Use MWRD property for public benefit across the county and increase access to water for residents.
Works with integrity with MWRD personnel and board to create an environment of mutual respect and build a collaborative effort.
Increase procurement opportunities for women, minority, and veteran owned businesses (WBE/MBE/VBE) across the board.
Works together and in partnership with the MWRD board to help underserved communities gain access to resources that can make their communities more sustainable.
Have a forward thinking and innovative vision for MWRD that will prepare the agency for the 100 years
Prioritize underserved communities prone to flooding and have a plan for environmental justice concerns.
Should large landowners be billed for how much water runs off their properties?
Dubuclet: I believe there should be a way to address runoff from older properties that are not covered under the MWRD’s Watershed Management Ordinance. I would support an audit of these properties and look at an approach that ensure fairness, equity, and protects the public good. Simply billing large landowners for stormwater runoff will inevitably become regressive. I would be interested in investigating an equitable means of doing this without unnecessarily negatively impacting schools, churches, non profits and other similar types of businesses and organizations.
Who is Kim Dubuclet?
Her political/civic background State Representative- 26th District- 2011-2013 Museum of Contemporary Art, Women’s Board AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Former Board member Personal PAC, Former Board member The Links, Inc. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. University of Chicago Black MBA Association University of Chicago Laboratory Schools – Former Development Committee member Her occupation Director of Legislative and Community Affairs for the Chicago Park District Her education University of Illinois- BS, Marketing University of Chicago- MBA, Marketing Campaign website: kim4water.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?
Dubuclet: I think government agencies must be transparent. This is especially true when taxpayer dollars are at stake. As a commissioner transparency and accountability will be a priority for me. I also believe that in personnel matters, there should be a balance between the public’s right to know and the privacy of an individual’s personal decisions. These types of situations should be treated with fairness and decency and work in the best interest of all involved parties.
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?
Dubuclet: We should consider reviewing the stormwater management ordinance given the increase in development across the county. We must ensure that we are protecting our sewers from increased stress levels on them. Protecting and rebuilding our water infrastructure should be top priority for the next MWRD board of commissioners. We should be giving developers and homeowners credits for going above and beyond the ordinance with respect to the use of green infrastructure would encourage its use. The ordinance could set the baseline to promote these techniques and the MWRD can use public outreach to help the public realize its role in making the ordinance effective.
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.
Should the MWRD’s disinfection system be expanded? Is cost a concern?
Dubuclet: Yes, I believe MWRD’s disinfection system should be expanded. By increasing the disinfection of effluent, we will decrease the bacteria levels in those waterways. Currently, we are disinfecting where the majority of recreational activity is taking place (the Chicago River and the Little Calumet River). I believe disinfection technology should be installed to improve the water quality farther downstream as well. Because more recreation takes place near the Calumet and O’Brien plants, I think it was appropriate to install disinfection technology there first, and with those projects complete I would be an advocate for expanding the disinfecting system.
What new ideas would you bring to the district?
Dubuclet: I have been a long-time advocate for water conservation, and have dedicated the last decade of my life to public service. I am passionate about the mission of MWRD and look forward to serving on the Board. When I served in the Illinois General Assembly I was often was a voice for environmental issues and was proud to receive a 100% voting record with the Illinois Environmental Council.
If elected, I hope to work on
1) Expansion of the Deep Tunnel project as we have seen significant positive impact from this project in communities across the county.
2) Encouraging MWRD contractors to maintain back office functions locally within the Chicagoland area, so that our public dollars are re-invested in our community
3) Supporting initiatives that find uses for our wastewater, including turning it into renewable energy.
4) Push for the expansion and usage of green infrastructure throughout the county as well as the need to increase our urban park space for communities.
5) Continue to increase the outreach and education to communities and policy makers about keeping our waterways safe (proper RX Disposal, CSO water days, green infrastructure, etc)
6) work on a plan for environmental justice concerns.
Stormwater Management is crucial to protecting our water ways as well as our homes and communities. This requires a multifaceted approach. The district must complete TARP, continue to improve our infrastructure, invest in green infrastructure and expand green space, as well as develop and enforce more balanced and responsible development and policies to promote better stormwater management practices. The district should also continue to build its Community education and engagement. This is crucial to the future of MWRD.
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?
Dubuclet: I would like the district to consider implementing the same campaign contribution guidelines for MWRD commissioners that are in place for County commissioners. Imposing limits on campaign contributions by businesses with MWRD contracts is an effective way of ensuring fairness in the contracting process, without imposing unjust restrictions. Some see campaign contributions as a form of speech and I am not an advocate of eliminating one’s right to express their opinion on an issue, limits should be implemented in a way that preserves this right, without going overboard and banning these contributions all together.
Should there be an independent and adequately funded inspector general’s office at the MWRD?
Dubuclet: Yes, I believe that there should be an independent inspector general to oversee the MWRD. The MWRD has the ability to award large contracts and is actually the second largest landowner in Cook County, so an independent inspector general will ensure that taxpayers have a Board that is fairly monitored.
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?
Dubuclet: The MWRD should have a leadership role in working with other government agencies in lobbying and other efforts to help combat the impact of extreme weather events. As a team, MWRD working with other government agencies should develop county wide solutions to the problems presented by heavy rainfall events and lead the efforts of others throughout the region. Additionally, we should continue to work with other policymakers at the local and state level to promote better water policies which could include introducing local permeable pavement ordinances to state-level water recycling policies.
How do you foresee the MWRD eliminating all combined sewer overflows?
Dubuclet: The core mission of MWRD is stormwater management and wastewater treatment. As such, the agency is in a great position to take action to reduce or ultimately eliminate combined sewer overflows. Since wastewater and stormwater enter the same combined sewers during heavy rainfall, the sewers sometime fill to capacity resulting in a mixture of untreated raw sewage and stormwater overflowing into our waterways. The current Tunnel and Reservoir Plan will help minimize CSO’s because they are built to retain billions of gallons of water that would have otherwise overflowed into our waterways. In addition to TARP, increased usage of green infrastructure is imperative to decreasing CSO’s. When green infrastructure is in place, rainwater infiltrates into the soil and as a result, it slows its entry into the sewer system. I support increased incentives for green infrastructure (including green roofs, permeable pavers, and increased usage of rain barrels) and I will be a strong advocate for conservation education to reduce the amount of water going into the system. We also need to work towards reducing the use of water resistant surface areas. I also think we should explore using more solar power to operate systems at MWRD.
Is the MWRD responsible for combined sewer discharges by Chicago and other municipalities?
Dubuclet: Though the MWRD doesn’t own the outfalls along much of the river, the city and most municipalities consider the District’s long-term control plan to be their answer to CSOs. Someday they may have to take responsibility, but in the meantime, the MWRD should be held accountable.
Is the MWRD doing enough to buy up buildings in flood plains to reduce the cost and damage of flooding?
Dubuclet: Yes, since the MWRD gained the authorization to acquire flood-prone properties, the District has done so sensibly in order to proceed with local stormwater projects and restore the natural floodplain. The MWRD has exercised good judgement in last case scenarios when it became necessary to acquire properties and either returning them to open space or enacting stormwater management projects like the use of green infrastructure or permeable paving. The money that the MWRD has spent on regional stormwater projects, including the cost of buying up buildings in flood plains, has consistently been smaller than the benefits it creates for Cook County residents by reducing the cost and damage of flooding.
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