Every two years, the nine members of the Board of Commissioners for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) cast their vote to determine three key executive positions within the Board of Commissioner for President, Vice President and Chairman of Finance. On Thursday, January 7, the MWRD Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to retain Kari K. Steele as MWRD President.
“It is hard work and teamwork that has positioned MWRD as leaders in the wastewater treatment and storm-water management industry. I would not be able to do this essential work without the expertise and brain trust of the MWRD Board of Commissioners and staff,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “Thank you for the opportunity to continue to serve in this capacity during good and unprecedented times. Together we are stronger and wiser. I am humbled and grateful for your confidence in me.”
President Steele brings to the Board unique qualifications as a chemist, environmentalist and former MWRD intern and employee. She is dedicated to fulfilling the mission of MWRD to protect the health and safety of the public in its 883.5-mile service area, protect the quality of the water supply source (Lake Michigan), improve the quality of water in watercourses in its service area, protect businesses and homes from flood damages and manage water as a vital resource for its service area.
The year 2020 challenged our resilience, capabilities, and ability to sustain during unprecedented circumstances. Serving as President during this terrain led to raising the bar to keep our essential service to the residents of Cook County operational without failure or delay. Together we have remained capable, ready, and able to continue in the new year to weather any crisis and lead the way when necessary.
During President Steele’s tenure, despite the turbulent economy, the MWRD again received a stable outlook from Fitch Ratings, which maintained a AAA credit rating. The strong credit rating gives taxpayers the confidence that the MWRD remains prudent financial stewards of their tax dollars. President Steele and the Board of Commissioner also passed a balanced 2021 Operational Budget.
The MWRD was bestowed with the distinguished title of a “Utility of the Future Today” for the second time. Under Steele’s leadership, in January 2020, the Board of Commissioners approved an ethics ordinance designed to strengthen and ensure ongoing transparent, responsible operations.
A new 20-foot diameter Des Plaines Inflow Tunnel and gate shaft are being constructed to connect McCook Reservoir Stage I directly to the existing Des Plaines Tunnel System. This critical project remains on schedule for completion in 2021 and will aid in mitigating stormwater.
The MWRD has made great strides in their diversity efforts. A new apprenticeship program was established during President Steele’s tenure to garner the recruiting of females and minorities. The MWRD currently has a minority workforce representation of 43 percent and a female workforce representation of 26 percent as of June 30, 2020.
MWRD also launched an online payment system to expedite processing for permit applications and other programs. The Board of Commissioners approved two new policies that will promote opportunities for small business enterprises owned and operated by both members of the LGBT community and persons with disabilities.
MWRD for the first time in its 130-year history raised the Black Heritage Flag on February 4, 2020. President Steele was impactful in advocating for raising the flag to express MWRD’s support for the Black community and commitment to diversity. A short time later, other government institutions followed with flag raisings of their own throughout the state.
During Steele’s tenure as President, Juneteenth (June 19), which celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States, was added to the MWRD employee’s benefit time as an optional holiday. This action encourages people to come together, recall and reflect upon the sacrifices and struggles for civil liberties and equality, and to be mindful of treating all people with respect and courtesy.
An overview of the challenges and successes in her two years of service, which includes the COVID-19 pandemic, are a true reflection of the commitment and leadership of MWRD President Kari K. Steele, as well as the insight, oversight, and outreach of every MWRD executive, department head, staff and community partner to not only move forward, but to push forward without cease or reservation.
More information about MWRD is available in President Steele’s Annual Message | 2020: A Year in Review at: https://mwrd.org/sites/default/files/documents/PresidentsMessage2020.pdf.pdf or at www.mwrd.org.