Patricia Theresa Flynn, one of ten candidates seeking a six-year term on the Board of Commissioners that governs the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, is currently serving her third term as a Trustee of the Village of Crestwood in the Southwest suburbs. She previously worked in the MWRD’s pollution control operations, as well as in the laboratory at the MWRD’s Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. She currently works as a medical assistant in a dermatology clinic.
How did your work with the Village of Crestwood lead you to run for this office?
It’s a very simple story. Running for office was never on my list of things to do, but when we were faced with a drinking water scandal over eleven years ago, I decided. We loved our school, we liked our parish, we loved the community. We didn’t want to move. So my only choice was to dig my heels in and be part of change in the Village of Crestwood. I ran an active campaign and emerged as the first woman on the Village of Crestwood Board of Trustees. Now I’m the longest-serving woman on the Board of Trustees. I thought I was going to be out in one term, just to change up things and move on. But it turns out that public service is my passion, politics is not.
This is my third term with the Village. I have history working with the Water Reclamation District, in pollution control as well as in their lab at the Calumet plant, so this is not like I’m glomming on to an office that I know nothing about. I know what the agency’s mission is—flood control and wastewater treatment—and I’ve also been involved in projects related to those issues right here in the Village of Crestwood, doing intergovernmental agreements with the MWRD. Taking 150 homes out of a floodplain was one of the big projects we did here in town. [Ed. note: In 2018, the MWRD widened and reshaped a section of Tinley Creek in Crestwood, removing 173 homes and businesses from the hundred-year floodplain.]
What happened in that water scandal?
We were using a well, along with Chicago water. Residents were not in the know about that issue. [Ed. note: The Village of Crestwood had been mixing water from Lake Michigan with water from a well contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals in order to save money. Crestwood officials knew for decades, and continued to deliver contaminated water to residents despite an order from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.] It resulted in felony charges, and it resulted in laws changing in Springfield regarding tampering with water records. It also cost the Village millions in lawsuits—basically a lot of unrest and turmoil. I was very grateful to have a new mayor, Mayor Lou Presta, that was able to navigate that for us. He did a great job, did not bankrupt the Village, and he has the Village on a very good track right now.
Could you tell me more about your past employment with the MWRD? How does that experience give you a different perspective on the board?
I’ve always been a cheerleader for this agency. I used to clean offices, when I was a high schooler, down at their main office building. I was always impressed by the mission of the district and appreciated how vital it is to our communities and our environment. I worked at the Calumet plant in pollution control for a little bit, as well as in the laboratory. I was always amazed by what an engineering feat the district is.
What solutions do you think the district should pursue to help reduce the threat of basement flooding?
I’m not in the inner circles to know exactly how that will track, but my thoughts are this, and this is basing it off of my experience with the Village: the fifty-year flood and the hundred-year flood are coming at much shorter intervals, despite what our president says, and I think it’s time to invest in our infrastructure to prepare for tomorrow. That means ensuring that our Deep Tunnel project is on track to finish, and also going out into communities, like Crestwood experienced, and helping foster plans to lessen flooding in those areas.
What more do you think the district should be doing, if anything to get to carbon-neutral?
I’ve heard buzzwords of carbon farming, gray-water usage—if the science is there, of course I would support something like that, but at what cost to the taxpayer? If the science is there, and it can be done financially, I would be all for it. I’ve heard of the plants they’re making now, but I don’t know how much less of a footprint that would leave. It’s something I would have to learn more about myself.
Do you think there’s more the district should be doing on ethics or campaign finance?
Overall, the MWRD has done an excellent job, comparing them to other government agencies, on staying below the radar in terms of scandal. They’ve been doing very well. I think there’s lots of procedures in place and lots of qualified, talented professionals that ensure that nothing unethical transpires. I really do think that the Inspector General is great, an extra set of eyes, I’m all for that. But I do think that, overall, the district has a pretty ethical and straightforward operation.
Are there any projects that you think the district should pursue with its land holdings over the next few years?
That’s another project that we have paired up with the district on. In the Village of Crestwood, we took over the lease of several acres of district property and have developed it. The district is now receiving rent revenue that they never received before—$1.2 million. The Village of Crestwood is going to have sales tax revenue. The residents are going to have more opportunities to shop. There will be short-term job creation, in terms of construction jobs. There will be long-term jobs created. There’s also going to be green space developed along the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Village of Crestwood is looking to put their first-ever veterans park on this property as well. I think looking at all these district properties, and seeing if there’s better use, and maybe returning some revenue for the district to work on some of those infrastructure projects, would be ideal.
You received an early endorsement from IUOE Local 399, which represents district employees, as well as the Chicago Federation of Labor. How do you view the district’s relationship with organized labor?
Organized labor is critical. Organized labor has put food on my table all my life. My dad, an Irish immigrant, was a 399 engineer. My brothers are all 399 engineers. I have been a friend to labor for many years and support their initiative and feel confident about the work they’re able to deliver on public projects.
You started off running on a slate with Jennifer Irmen and Chris Peña. What happened with that?
We had to start over again. One of my candidates moved, so we had to redo the ballot. It was one heartache and headache. And my other friend, Jen, her practice was booming and got really busy, so she decided to jump off. Then I was left with “do I do this or not,” and I decided to go full speed ahead and do it on my own.
How do you distinguish yourself and get your name out there in a crowded field?
I have such a simple story—when it’s the truth, it’s easy to tell. I ran on a drinking water issue over a decade ago, it’s an agency I’ve worked for in the past, and I think there’s a strong connection to being passionate about your community and your environment. I’ve been a cheerleader for the MWRD for decades, and it’s an opportunity to work for an agency that I’ve admired for a long time.
What challenges do you see down the road for the district over the next five or ten years?
It’s the science versus the fiscal feasibility. That’s going to have to be looked at and addressed. If the science is behind it, how do we get the money behind it? That’s the biggest hurdle.
Sam Joyce is the nature editor and a managing editor of the Weekly. He last covered the closure of Pullman café bakery ‘Laine’s Bake Shop and an exhibit of macro-photography at a Kenwood church for the Weekly’s Arts Issue.