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updated: 2/10/2012 4:10 PM

Stella Black: Candidate Profile

Metro. Water Reclamation District (Democrat)

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  • Stella Black, running for Metro. Water Reclamation District

    Stella Black, running for Metro. Water Reclamation District




Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.

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City: Chicago


Office sought: Metro. Water Reclamation District

Age: 70

Family: Widowed, two children - son deceased, two grandchildren

Occupation: Property Tax Consultant

Education: Masters Degree in Public Administration Labor Law Certificate Real Estate Brokers License S.R.A. Designation with the Appraisal Institute Master's Thesis on Environmental Clean Up Recovery Act

Civic involvement: Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Shedd Aquarium B.O.S.S. Advisory Board Chicago Association of Realtors Appraisal Institute State Treasurers Community Affairs Council -- Co-chair Chair of NAWBO- PAC Wetlands Research Board Member Neumann Family Service Board Member NAWBO Liaison to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Member, Sierra Club

Elected offices held: 1981 - Centralia Township Assessor 1985 -- Re-elected as Centralia Township Assessor

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

My key priority would be to make sure that all contracts and leases are bid. I would strive to reduce MWRD's property tax burden and save money by improved management of the District's wide real estate holdings.

I would establish a financial oversight committee to provide an independent examination of the way the District spends our tax dollars.

My experience as a real estate broker will enable me to review leases and make determinations as to the merits of the District's leased properties and gives me the ability to help manage the MWRD's extensive landholdings and projects. I am also able to analyze the MWRD's property tax situation both from their perspective and that of the taxpayers. I have a Master's Certificate in Labor Law and an understanding of the skilled labor required by the District's many projects.

I would propose that, in a timely fashion, all District transactions are easily and readily available online to taxpayers, as well as to vendors.

Our goal should be an open process, one that expands the pool of qualified bidders.

Taxpayers should be able to directly access any bids granted in this open process, and review the standards for ensuring that all expenditures meet District environmental policies and responsibilities.

Key Issue 2

Water Quality: I want to measurably improve water quality for public and private use, as well as for aquatic life, by working to remove pharmaceutical traces in our water. Pharmaceutical water contamination is a growing concern and will only increase due to our society's high rate of prescription drug use. I support addressing this problem now, while it is more manageable and less costly, rather than waiting until the problem is much larger in the future.

I support disinfection at all MWRD plants, therefore I

support adding disinfection equipment and procedures at all treatment plants not now disinfecting to improve water quality in Cook County as long as we have scientific data proving the need for disinfection.

I support measures that result in clean water.

I would seek to build a coalition around implementing disinfection at plants that do not currently disinfect.

The goal is for disinfection to reduce the risk for human illness and improve the integrity and sustainability of our waterways. One potential method would be the increased use of wetlands. We must be certain that whatever disinfection methods are used do not result in airborne contaminants being released....

Key Issue 3

I support passage of the Watershed Management Ordinance because it is essential to protect our wetlands as habitats for wildlife and places for public enjoyment of these natural resources. It is important to provide uniform standards for requiring development and redevelopment projects to employ better stormwater mangement practices. Passage of the ordinance would better allow for coordination with the City of Chicago, suburbs and adjacent counties to ensure maximum benefit from all regional projects. The ordinance, effectively applied, will help manage floodwater damage, soil erosion and improve our overall water quality.

In 2005 the District was given authority to act as Cook County's stormwater management agency and

developed a draft ordinance in 2009. I support passage of an ordinance as soon as possible because it is essential to protect our wetlands as habitats for wildlife and our homes from recurring flood damage. It is important to provide uniform standards for requiring development and re-development projects to employ better stormwater mangement practices. Passage of the ordinance would better allow for coordination with the City of Chicago, suburbs and adjacent counties to ensure maximum benefit from all regional projects. The ordinance, effectively applied, will help manage floodwater damage, soil erosion and improve our overall water quality.

To expedite passage of the ordinance, I would work to form a Coalition of other Commissioners, concerned community organizations and homeowners plus Environmental groups, to set up a series of

Neighborood and Township hearings. I have faith in an informed public.

These hearings, and the attendant publicity, would both educate and put the ordinance on the public's agenda.

I would work cooperatively with any and all other Commissioners to put passage of the ordinance at the forefront of what is needed to ensure standards in development and re-development projects and to more effectively manage floodwaters.

Questions & Answers

What special knowledge or experience do you have that particularly qualifies you for this office?

I believe my experience establishing, and managing within, a township budget as a former Centralia Township Assessor, coupled with 20-plus years as owner of a real estate brokerage and appraisal business, will benefit the District and the taxpayers of Cook County.

I have a Master's Certificate in Labor Law and respect for skilled labor that will ensure that low bids are not accepted at the expense of quality work...

I will bring a fresh perspective for managing the issues the District faces and will remain the people's independent advocate for sound environmental policies and fiscal prudence.

As a Wetlands Research Board Member, I have consistently worked with different agencies to preserve our existing wetlands for flood control and water quality management. Wetlands provide the time for the physical, chemical and biological processes to remove many contaminants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. It may indeed be our disappearing wetlands that have caused the increased presence of such pollutants.

I believe my life experience distinguishes me from the other candidates. From holding elected office to raising a family to owning my own successful business, I have acquired the ability to effectively manage and multi-task.

My real estate and appraisal background will be invaluable in dealing with the property holdings of the District.

My extensive property tax background will be a boon to the taxpayers of Cook County as I can effectively deal with properties leased by the District.

This ability to oversee and manage the tax spending of the District sets me apart from the other candidates.

What should the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District do to prevent disasters like the widespread flooding that affected the North and Northwest suburbs in July 2011?

It would be a priority for me to prevent flooding and storm water run-off through establishing regional real estate standards for new developments honoring the unique needs of all municipalities. It would also be a priority for me, as a member of the Wetlands Research Board, to create and maintain wetlands as an effective means for managing storm water.

I would support lowering the threshold for volume control measures to 5,000 square feet for all types of development as it will better control

local flooding and help alleviate overburdening of the existing sewer system.

I would support setting the threshold for stormwater storage and detention requirements to 1 acre of development as that would ensure that runoff release requirements are applied to more properties and therefore the benefits of such requirements will be increased.

In order to reduce flooding due to the loss of natural flood water storage, I would support a higher floodplain compensatory storage ratio as it would would provide a higher factor of safety for the loss of existing floodplain storage.

I strongly support the use of green technologies in the management for storm water. Research about implementation of such technologies is still needed and the District could certainly be a leader in providing data and expertise.

The District's storm water program provides an excellent opportunity for researching and supporting the use of green technologies.

The District should work collaboratively with all relevant agencies to perfect the use of green storm water management technologies.

The district changed its severance policies last year, prompting 78 employees, including the executive director and a commissioner, to quit and resulting in a payout of $2.4 million. Do you support how that change was handled? Why or why not?

I feel that it was a responsible move, especially in these economic times, to eliminate severance pay for employees choosing to leave the MWRD. Since 1968 employees have been issued severance pay, even when they have not been laid off. This policy stood in stark contrast to that of most businesses, where severance has been reserved for those employees leaving due to lack of work, at no fault of their own.

It was, and is, not a 'perk'.

However, with the vote to eliminate the severance package coming so close to the end of 2010, and with the new rules going into effect on January 1, 2011, it was almost inevitable that many longtime employees would seek to leave in order to get the full benefits before the year's end.

The 78 employees who left the MWRD were paid a total of $863,706 in severance pay alone -- not including the $1.5 million paid out in accrued sick day pay.

So, while I applaud the fiscal responsibility of eliminating severance pay as a 'perk,' I believe it could have been instituted incrementally, or over a period of time.

To eliminate this benefit, that had been a condition of their employment, in one fell swoop, guaranteed this mass exodus.

It left the District with a huge payout all at one time and also created an enormous loss of staff and talent.

What should the district's policies be with regard to severance, sick time and pensions' Please explain in detail.

I support the elimination of severance pay for employees who are not being laid off.

I do believe that a reasonable severance package, in line with most businesses and other public agencies, needs to be in place for laid off employees who must leave the MWRD without cause and through no fault of their own.

I believe the ?rolling over? of excessively high numbers of sick days needs to be changed.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy faced a similar issue when his predecessor received $76,308 for 64 unused vacation days when he left the department.

The Superintendent lowered the number of unused vacation days that can be carried over into the next year to 25.

I would support a similar step for the MWRD.

I would advocate for a reduction in sick days that can be accrued.

The Water Reclamation District voted in June to disinfect sewage before dumping it into waterways. Are there more steps the board should take to protect the environment? Please be specific.

It is important to monitor and regulate the amount of pharmaceuticals - especially endocrine disrupting pollutants - in our waterways.

Physiological and chemical changes due to exposure and ingestion of endocrine disrupting pollutants have been widely documented in wildlife.

Over time I believe these changes will be catastrophic to the ecosystem.

There is now strong evidence that there is a negative hman impact to longterm ingestion of these pollutants as well.

I am calling for a Pharmaceutical Water Decontamination Plan that will: a. Provide regular detection and monitoring of pharmaceuticals in MWRD waterways b. Create convenient drop-off locations in every MWRD ward and township to make recycling pharmaceuticals easy c. Provide free mail-in packages for MWRD residents to mail pharmaceuticals for recycling.

I believe that the further implementation of a pharmeceutical recycling program combined with measures to reduce discharge of pharmaceuticals into our waterways is a priority.