Kimberly Neely DuBuclet: Candidate profile, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Three Democrats and three Green Party candidates are running for three, 6-year seats on the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, a government agency responsible for spending more than $1.1 billion annually to perform essential functions in preventing flooding and keeping Cook County's waterways clean.
Democrat incumbents Cameron "Cam" Davis of Evanston and Kimberly Neely DuBuclet of Chicago are joined on the ballot by Democrat Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda, the Village Clerk of Hanover Park, and Green Party candidates Troy Hernandez of Chicago, a data scientist and solution engineer; Tammie Vinson of Chicago, a Chicago Public Schools teacher; and Rachel Wales of Oak Lawn, a humane farming adviser and freelance writer.
Q. Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what? What specific professional qualifications do you possess that would make you excel in this office?
A. I grew up in a home that frequently flooded during big storms and I remember what a burden that was on my family. Providing solutions to low-income communities that reduce home flooding is a very personal cause for me. As our city and region become more urbanized, the proliferation of impervious surfaces increases as well.
I'm running for reelection because I believe we must find viable infrastructure alternatives to help with the increase in excess water due to climate change.
Given our lack of leadership on environmental issues at the federal level and the systematic dismantling of environmental protection laws, I feel it's critical that we have strong local leadership to protect our communities from the dangerous policies being disseminated in Washington.
As the agency tasked with protecting our fresh water supply, MWRD can play a key role in protecting our natural heritage.
Previously, I was a state legislator, where I received a 100% rating with the Illinois Environmental Council. I also served as the Director of Legislative and Community affairs at the Chicago Park District, where I worked with community and elected officials to advocate for park and green space throughout Chicago.
Q. If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A. I have accomplished quite a bit in my tenure on the board. I am most proud of helping to lead the effort, along with my co-chair, to amend the Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO).
The amendment begins the process of storm credit trading within Cook County. The WMO seeks to prevent future developments from making area flooding and water quality problems worse by regulating sewer construction within MWRD's service area.
The WMO Amendment includes new Watershed Specific regulations. These new regulations include updating the redevelopment provisions relating to stormwater detention and also provides other clarifications.
One of the first questions I raised as a commissioner was if the MWRD had a climate action plan. Surprisingly, the answer was no at that time. I am proud of the work we have been able to accomplish with regards to drafting a climate action plan for MWRD. It will focus on sustainability and resilience efforts that can be undertaken at MWRD.
MWRD staff has worked tirelessly on the plan, which will be released in the coming months. We look forward to receiving feedback and guidance from external stakeholders across the county about the plan.
Q. Due to the old infrastructure of a combined sewage system, raw sewage may be released into rivers and the lake during a heavy rain. While efforts such as rain barrels are important, does the district have any long-term plans to address the underlying infrastructure issue?
A. MWRD can help to reduce the use of water resistant surface areas and incentivize green infrastructure. By doing so, less stormwater will enter our combined sewer system.
I support increased incentives for green infrastructure and I will be a strong advocate for conservation education to educate the public on how to reduce the amount of water going into the system. Other steps can also be taken, such as increasing efforts to disconnect downspouts from the sewer system, and advocating for greywater plumbing systems. These are a few actions that, if taken, should result in less water entering the sewer system.
Preserving the county's green spaces will also be vital. The land's natural ability to absorb rain and sewer water will reduce the volume of water in our sewers and curb sewage overflows. MWRD should take the opportunity to play a leadership role on both fronts in order to help promote a greener environment.
If elected, I plan to work with suburban counties and villages to adopt model policies that promote permeable surfacing, green building codes and other environmental best practices.
Q. For years, not one suburban Republican has been elected to the board. Should the board be elected by regional districts?
A. I support keeping the existing countywide commissioner districts for the board of MWRD. MWRD water reclamation and stormwater management in one part of the county impacts other parts of the county. Water knows no boundaries. Commissioners that are elected by the entire county are forced to maintain a more holistic perspective on water management rather than a region or district perspective. I think this perspective helps MWRD to be a public agency that considers the needs of the entire county when making policy decisions.
Q. How do you rate the MWRD on transparency and the public's access to records? If you consider it adequate, please explain why. If you think improvements are needed, please describe them and why they are important.
A. I voted for and fully support the creation of the Inspector General via an intergovernmental agreement with Cook County government to provide independent oversight to the MWRD. This is an initiative that is important to me, as we need to continue to increase transparency and accountability in local government. I'm proud to have voted in support of this effort as member of the MWRD Board of Commissioners.
MWRD can do more to promote transparency and the public's access to MWRD records. Transparency is critical to keeping MWRD accountable to the taxpayers. More must be done to make the information the district has easier to find on its website and easier to understand.
Accountability and transparency are critical to my role at MWRD, and I think it should be for all governments.
Q. What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
A. If reelected to the board, I plan to support increased funding toward further implementation of Green Infrastructure (GI). GI allows excess stormwater to slowly seep into the soil or evaporate into the air, which ultimately reduces the amount of stormwater that enters our sewers and water ways and can help control flooding.
GI also offers environmental, social, and economic benefits. GI can increase property values, beautify neighborhoods, support natural habitats and create green jobs. I also support efforts to provide tax credits or rebates for the use of GI.
Further, I would like to expand our drug take-back program to more public and private facilities so residents will have better access to return unused medications. We need to further educate the public on safe ways to return unused medications rather than flushing them down the toilet.
Finally, I will support policies to reduce climate change, as this is a critical issue we face in our region with increased rainfalls and flooding over the last several years. We need to lead the county on these issues and focus more on sustainability and resiliency for the residents of Cook County.