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Gagging At The Water Reclamation District

David St. Pierre, the executive eirector of Chicago's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, resigned effective June 27th, taking with him $95,000 plus benefits in a severance package first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The MWRD, a taxpayer-funded agency responsible for flood prevention and wastewater management, did not provide a reason for St. Pierre's departure in its press release. St. Pierre had been the subject of an investigation led by an outside law firm, but MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore told the Sun-Times that "a non-disparagement clause in the separation agreement with St. Pierre" prevented her from discussing the probe.

Green Party candidates for the MWRD Board of Commissioners, the nine-member body that oversees the district and its $1.2 billion budget, quickly called for more openness and transparency, tying the mysterious departure to other recent ethical lapses at the agency.

"When the head of a taxpayer-funded agency departs under investigation, the public deserves to know why," said Karen Roothaan, one of five Green Party candidates who will be on the ballot this November. "What was this investigation about? The current commissioners aren't telling us."

"Public officials have an educational duty," said Tammie Vinson, a Chicago Public Schools teacher and another of the candidates for a full six-year seat on the board. "There shouldn't be any gag orders or golden parachutes when there's wrongdoing. Was there wrongdoing? We don't know, and they're not saying. That's not an administration the public can have confidence in."

Independent research by the Green Party candidates and by media outlets had already revealed other scandals at the district prior to St. Pierre's departure, including its ongoing discharge of untreated sewers into the waterways (once every six days on average, according to a Chicago Tribune report) and the of MWRD commissioners awarding contracts to their own campaign donors, often in excess of the limits laid out in Cook County and City of Chicago campaign finance rules.

"No one should just assume everything's okay when the head of a billion-dollar government agency departs under a gag order," said Geoffrey Cubbage, a candidate for a two-year partial term on the board. "Five of the nine seats are up for election this November, and that means voters get to choose who's in charge at the MWRD: do they want more of the same from a Board of Commissioners that doesn't disclose major investigations to the public, or do they want a party running the show that takes no corporate contributions, and that has pledged to bring transparency and accountability to the district?"

All five Green Party candidates have called for an independent and fully-funded Inspector General's office at the MWRD, a reform that has been advocated for by many watchdog and good-government groups.

The Green Party candidates on the November 6th ballot will be: Chris Anthony, Karen Roothaan, and Tammie Vinson for full, six-year terms, and Rachel Wales and Geoffrey Cubbage to fill two partial, two-year vacancies.


Comments welcome.


Posted on July 13, 2018

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