As promised, Tampa International Airport chief executive Joe Lopano today declined a raise, saying it was inappropriate in a poor economy. The decision cost him a $50,000 increase to his $250,000 base pay.
However, Lopano said he'd be open to a Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board plan to consider adding incentives to his contract. The five-member board in a split vote agreed to review other airport CEO bonus plans at an Oct. 20 workshop.
Lopano later indicated he expected to be considered for a raise by now, nine months after taking the Tampa job, given provisions, if not direct language, in his contract.
The issue of whether Lopano should get a raise and if he was led to believe when he was hired he'd regain his pay level as a top Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport executive led to some tension in board member comments.
His base salary in Texas was $262,642, with benefits bringing his annual compensation to $358,142. His Tampa pay and benefits package of $305,000 does not include a one-year $36,000 housing allowance.
The board praised Lopano's performance and potential. He has restructured staff to focus on business development and created a financial incentive program, primarily to recruit international flights.
But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist served notice they would not follow the lead of the three non-elected officials on the board and rubber stamp a raise.
Buckhorn was adamant that authority business not be conducted with a "wink-wink" or "wishful thinking."
"A contract is a contract," Buckhorn said.
Crist said a raise for Lopano must take into account the perception of airport authority employees who got a 3 percent cost of living increase and other area workers.
Board members Joe Diaco and Robert Watkins endorsed giving Lopano a raise and Diaco proposed the $50,000 figure. Board member Steve Burton concurred, but said he knew Lopano would not accept it and suggested the bonus concept alternative.
Diaco praised new flights to Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Key West, although Trudy Carson, who Lopano fired as air service development director, recruited the Puerto Rico and Key West flights and an increase in London flights to daily service. Groundwork for Cuba charter flights began in late 2008.
Diaco warned that Lopano would take a $36,000 "pay cut" Jan. 1 when his housing provision expired, but Crist said Lopano knew that the provision -- intended to give him time to sell his Texas house – was temporary.