Barbara O'Meara: Candidate profile, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, District 5
Democratic Barbara O'Meara of Naperville is challenging Republican incumbent Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville for the District 5 seat on the DuPage County Forest Preserve District in the Nov. 3 general election.
O'Meara is a licensed environmental health practitioner with a 30-year career in the environmental health division of public health. She is an adjunct biology professor at Waubonsee Community College and a Naperville Public Library District board member.
To explore her campaign website, check barbo4forestpreserve.com
District 5 serves all or parts of Warrenville, Aurora, Naperville, Lisle and Woodridge.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are O'Meara's replies.
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?
A: One major issue that sparked me to run is the dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency and the general disembowelment of environmental laws and policies by the Republican Party. You can say whatever you want about being nonpartisan or equal representation, but if there is an R behind your name you are voting for environmental damage and destruction.
I believe you need to elect people to fit the positions and with a forest preserve position it should always be about preserving, protecting, and progressing. The Republican Party has shown no regard to protecting, protecting or progressing and that is at the core of why I am running.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your two biggest contributions to the board. If you are a non-incumbent, describe two ways you would contribute to the board.
A: I bring a career in environmental health, a master's degree in public health, and 12 years as an adjunct professor in biology. This allows me to bring science to the forest preserve board.
No person with a secondary science degree has ever served on this board and we need that type of background. In order to move any board forward you need new blood, new ideas and a fresh perspective. We have a chance to do that in this election and it can profoundly effect where the forest preserve of DuPage County goes in the next 10-20 years.
Bringing a background in science and a new outlook on the future of this board is beneficial and needed in this time of environmental upheaval by the current administration.
Q: What role should the forest preserve play in preserving historic buildings on its land?
A: The forest preserve should always consider the preservation of salvageable and historically important buildings. The cost of undertaking those projects and the ultimate benefit to the preserves and people needs to be reviewed and understood. I will not save a building or sink millions of dollars into something that is redundant or of little benefit. We are charged with making sound financial decisions when sitting on a board and that is what I expect from all people entrusted with public funds and I expect it of myself.
Q: How would you rate the job the commission is doing to develop existing forest preserves and make them accessible to residents? How would you approach things differently?
A: We need to continue to look for ways to allow people and pets to utilize the forest preserve. I bring a background in public health and making things as safe as possible is a high priority.
We need to utilize natural products to reduce the number of ticks in our dogs parks, not only for the dogs but to protect the people.
Lyme disease has affected over 300 DuPage residents as confirmed cases and possibly over 3,000 unconfirmed.
By controlling a disease vector the forest preserve becomes more accessible to everyone.
Ranking the current board, I put it as fair, a 3 out of 5. We need science-backed programs to protect people and with those accessibility can be increased.
Q: What is the most important issue facing the forest preserves in your district and how should it be addressed?
A: Climate change is, of course, the most important issue in the forest preserve and in the world. We have to incorporate changes in how we manage the forest preserves, the employees that work in them and the vehicles that are used. Invasive species will increase with climate change and must be addressed. Finally we are in the middle of a large extinction of species worldwide and here in DuPage County, we need to acknowledge this and take action because in 5, 10, or 20 years from now it will be too late.