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Aviation boss raked over the coals about aviation police officers

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans (left) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talk near a concrete demolition site after a press conference for the next step in modernizing O'Hare International Airport on Aug. 11, 2016. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans was raked over the coals again Monday over her decision to strip the word “police” from the badges, uniforms and vehicles of Chicago’s $19 million-a-year force of 292 unarmed aviation police officers.

On the hot seat at City Council budget hearings, Evans assured aldermen that she has no intention of eliminating the in-house force. Not even after firing two of the unarmed aviation security officers who boarded United Airlines Flight 3411 on April 9 and dragged a flailing and bloodied Dr. David Dao down the aisle when the doctor refused to give up his seat for a United crew member who needed to get to Louisville.

“Our budget request reflects our position that we need these officers. We want them. And they will continue to be doing the duties” they were hired to do, Evans said.

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) was not appeased.

“What’s to prevent the department moving forward from knocking them out of the budget?” Harris said.

Evans replied, “It would be extremely disruptive to make that change. We don’t have an alternate mechanism in place. We don’t have any plans to put an alternate mechanism in place.”

Andrew Velasquez, managing deputy commissioner for safety and security, noted that the duties of aviation security officers would “remain consistent with their established job description as well as the title” negotiated by their union “over the last 20 years.”

“Their primary responsibilities are to conduct federal enforcement requirements consistent with the FAA and the TSA, which is a very critical role at both airports. And they will continue to perform those duties,” Velasquez said.

Earlier this year, Evans responded to that embarassing incident that gave Chicago an international black eye by announcing that the unarmed officers would survive, but only after their roles are minimized, their training overhauled and the word “police” is stripped from their badges, uniforms and vehicles.

Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents the 292 officers, has accused the commissioner of “scapegoating” the officers to divert attention from what the union called “her own failed policies and mismanagement.”

Local 73 Trustee Dian Palmer has vowed to pursue “all remedies available” to the union — including a grievance, the Illinois Labor board and in court.

The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus has demanded that aviation security officers continue to undergo four months of training at the police academy and retain their titles as police officers.

On Monday, a parade of aldermen publicly challenged Evans’ decision.

“With all of the violence that’s going on in Chicago, I don’t know why we’re here dealing with aviation security,” said Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th). “I don’t understand why we can’t just do an ordinance and establish a city of Chicago aviation police department.”

The security issue wasn’t the only beef aldermen had with Evans, the city’s highest paid public official, with an annual salary of $300,000 and a contract that allows her to earn a performance bonus of $100,000 a year.

For the second straight year, Evans was also under the gun for a shortage of minority contracts at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

“We have made some progress, but not enough,” said South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

Evans pointed to a 30 percent increase over the last year — from $113 million to $140 million — in payments to minority- and women-owned sub-contractors.

The commissioner also said she’s working hard to “bring more minority firms and small businesses to the table when it comes to all airport construction activities.”

She’s doing that, in part, by “changing the type of contracts we utilize and the packaging of” those contracts and by creating target market contracts that allow minorities and women to compete against each other for construction and engineering contracts.

“We will utilize construction management at-risk contracts, which will allow for both professional and construction work service type requirements along with a robust selection process” for minority- and women-owned businesses, she said.

Evans was also under pressure to spell out the criteria used to grant her $100,000 bonus. She refused to discuss it, calling it a private personnel matter.