CLEARING — Residents who live near Midway Airport and their elected officials are angry at city Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans, who missed a hearing on foul-smelling windows in area homes for a vacation to view the solar eclipse near Grand Teton National Park, they said.
City officials have been working to resolve the concerns of Midway and O'Hare area residents who received noise-buffering windows from the city that in many cases have emitted noxious fumes.
A late August joint hearing of the city's Aviation and Finance committees was set so neighbors and aldermen could hear from Aviation officials regarding the situation, but Evans did not show, much to the consternation of residents and elected officials.
Two days before that meeting, Evans posted on social media from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where she was near the path of totality for the summer's solar eclipse.
"While these folks were here expressing their concerns over these toxic fumes, you chose to be in the shadow of the Grand Teton mountains enjoying happy hour on the back lawn, is that correct?" 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke asked at Tuesday's hearing.
Evans said the trip was "long-standing" and that she notified Burke about her plans and inquired about alternate dates for the hearing.
"Visiting our national parks with family is a great American tradition. It's very important to my family," she said. "Nothing slowed down because of my absence."
Evans and other city officials were called Tuesday to testify about the city's Residential Sound Improvement Program, which has installed noise-reducing windows in 20,000 homes since 2005. Now some residents say the vinyl windows are disfiguring in the heat and emitting a noxious odor that some worry is causing health issues.
There have been 229 requests for inspectors to look at the vinyl windows, and so far 92 homes have been found to have the noxious odor, Evans said. The city will replace those windows, she said.
"We're taking a series of steps to identify the problem and a conservative approach to making the highest priority corrections," Evans said. "We stepped up. We weren't required to, but we did it to be good neighbors. We have no legal obligations to provide window replacement."
Aldermen and neighbors slammed the Aviation Department, saying it was not being transparent and responsive to concerned homeowners, and accused the department of obfuscating the problem. Particularly vexing was the fact that a more proactive approach was not taken, despite the city replacing the windows of two homes in 2015, some neighbors said.
When asked about the 2015 window replacement, Evans said she was not made aware of it until complaints started piling up in June. Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) then produced a contract for the window replacements that supposedly included Evans signature.
"In fact, it's notarized," Quinn said.
But Evans said she did not sign the agreement.
"This is not my signature. It was signed by staff, apparently," she said. "I didn't sign this document."
"That's really problematic," Quinn responded.
Aldermen said they were not satisfied with the department's approach. Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11th) said the city should send letters to every recipient of the windows to notify them of the problem.
Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) asked the city to replace as many windows as possible.
"I don't know if everybody will be satisfied until every home has been tested, and we get the windows replaced," he said.