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Black Caucus: Tie aviation chief’s bonus to minority contracts

All 18 black aldermen have signed a letter sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanding that the salary of Ginger Evans, the city's aviation boss, be tied to her performance on minority contracting. | File photo

The City Council’s Black Caucus has kept its promise to demand that Mayor Rahm Emanuel tie Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans’ $100,000-a-year bonus to her performance on minority contracting at O’Hare and Midway airports.

Two weeks after raking Evans over the coals on the issue, the Black Caucus wrote a letter to Emanuel decrying the “deplorable state” of minority contracting at O’Hare and Midway. African-American contractors are “virtually shut out,” they wrote.

“Commissioner Evans and her predecessors have pledged to fix this issue but have delivered no results. In spite of that failed promise, Commissioner Evans still receives an approximately $100,000 performance bonus to her already exorbitant salary,” the Black Caucus wrote in a letter to the mayor released Monday.

“While she has worked diligently to ensure the proper functioning of the airports, her performance on MBE/WBE/DBE hiring is abysmal and should be reflected in any performance related compensation bestowed upon her by the Chicago taxpayers. . . . We ask you to tie the commissioner’s current $100,000 bonus to her department’s performance on MBE/WBE/DBE hiring.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) demanded that the city’s airports do better in getting minority contractors involved. | Sun-Times file photo
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) demanded that the city’s airports do better in getting minority contractors involved. | Sun-Times file photo

In September, the City Council came within one vote of blocking a $3.5 billion O’Hare Airport bond sale, delivering another powerful message about the lack of minority participation on the airport gravy train.

Two weeks ago, the same African-American aldermen had another opportunity to get their point across.

Evans was on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings. And Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) made sure the seat was plenty hot by questioning the $100,000 performance bonus that augments Evan’s $300,000 salary as Chicago’s highest-paid public official.

“Increasing African-American participation should be a criteria for your bonus,” Dowell said then.

The letter released Monday puts that demand into writing.

“This has been an ongoing issue for years which has been raised with your office and the Chicago Department of Aviation on countless occasions without yielding any substantive change in practice,” the Black Caucus wrote.

“The airports fail in every facet of the [minority contracting] process: construction, professional services, commodities, work services and concession. The airports are major economic drivers for the city and all residents must have equal access to opportunities associated with their operation. Yet, a large segment of the population is virtually shut out from those benefits due, in part, to demographic characteristics. That is simply wrong.”

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans got an earful from African-American alderman at an earlier budget hearing. Evans, who is the city’s highest paid public official with a salary of $300,000, also gets a $100,000 bonus that aldermen want tied to her perfor
Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans got an earful from African-American alderman at an earlier budget hearing. Evans, who is the city’s highest paid public official with a salary of $300,000, also gets a $100,000 bonus that aldermen want tied to her performance on hiring minority contractors. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Aviation Department spokesman Owen Kilmer argued that it was “not legally appropriate” to tie MBE performance to the commissioner’s bonus.

“Commissioner Evans fully supports the goals of City Council to increase contracts and employment opportunities for certified MBE/ WBE/ DBE/ ACDBE firms. Further, she has committed to continued outreach to ensure that minority-owned firms receive information and are encouraged to pursue CDA contracting opportunities,” Kilmer wrote.

But, he said, “The inclusion of diversity hiring as a performance element in the commissioner’s bonus is not legally appropriate. The commissioner does not have the authority to affect established standards set for diversity in hiring and contracting, as those standards are set, and strictly limited by, federal, state and local laws and practices.”

During last month’s budget hearing, Evans argued that she has so far awarded only one contract tied to the massive $3.5 billion airport borrowing, and that contract has “new requirements that have never been in any city contract before” on the issue of workforce development.

“We want to increase participation in all areas. Especially the areas where we’re low. … We’re low particularly in design and construction. . . . We aren’t getting the number of African-American bidders on construction contracts that we need to,” Evans said, noting that she has met recently with Black Contractors United, the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association and the National Minority Supplier Council.

To counter the claim that she has bypassed aldermen, Evans said she was “jointly planning” an event Thursday with a couple of aldermen, and the aldermen will be responsible for inviting people “to make sure that we reach out to as many people as possible.”

“We are certainly making every effort to reach out to all the aldermen. We need you. We want to work in partnership with you. We know that you have a network that we don’t have,” she said.

Evans’ decision to cast a broader net on the issue of minority contracts comes on direct orders from Emanuel, who is trying desperately to rebuild trust with African-American voters shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

After last month’s close call on the O’Hare bond sale, Emanuel made it clear he had talked to Evans and told her that she had “some work to do because I respect the principle of what the aldermen were saying and see that principle and that value.”

The Black Caucus has been increasingly vocal on minority contracting and employment issues in recent months.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that the Black Caucus was declaring its upfront opposition to giving United Airlines control over all concessions and contracts at its O’Hare Airport terminal in retaliation for the airline’s indifference to allegations of wage theft at O’Hare.