Margaret Frisbie speaks at a news conference to announce Overflow Action Days with (left to right) Senator Dick Durbin, MWRD Commissioner Mariyana T. Spyropoulos, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-9).
In January 2020 the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), the agency responsible for sewage and stormwater management in Cook County, passed a new ethics ordinance to expand their lobbying rules and regulations in an attempt to become more transparent. At the time it was passed, Friends objected to the ordinance because it equated the advocacy work that Friends does with that of paid lobbyists. Friends certainly supports efforts to make our public agencies more transparent, but this ordinance goes too far.
The requirements of registering and reporting as lobbyists is an enormous obstacle because Friends and our nonprofit partners must interact regularly with MWRD staff and commissioners as we work to continue to improve the river system. It makes it very difficult and essentially impossible for smaller nonprofits to partner with the MWRD for beneficial projects and serve as experts on their committees. It silences us and threatens to reverse the positive changes in habitat, water quality, and stormwater management we've accomplished together over the years.
Specifically, the ordinance puts an unwarranted financial burden on our organizations and includes burdensome reporting requirements that are challenging to meet for even the most sophisticated nonprofit advocacy groups. The ordinance also holds individual staff members accountable, putting them at financial risk of hefty fines of up to $10,000 dollars per day and makes it all but impossible for smaller community-based advocacy groups to get their voices heard.
Lobbying by nonprofits is already well defined and regulated by the IRS and state rules that can lead to fines and loss of nonprofit status if broken. Therefore there is no need for the MWRD to complicate them. For these reasons, we have asked the MWRD Board of Commissioners to immediately pass a moratorium on this ordinance until they reexamine its contents and remove the restrictive covenants for nonprofits and the extremely high financial liabilities for our employees.
We ask you to do the same.
Please call or email the commissioners before the next board meeting October 15 at 10:30 am. Thank them for their efforts to improve the health of our waterways and their goal to curb corruption, but tell them that you know we need our voices heard so to please VOTE FOR A MORATORIUM on the ethics ordinance that takes the advocates out today.
Friends of the Chicago River is the only organization solely dedicated to the Chicago River system.
Since 1979, Friends has been working to improve the health of the Chicago River system for the benefit of people and wildlife and by doing so, has laid the foundation for the river to be a beautiful, continuous, easily accessible corridor of open space in the Chicago region.