Bob Buckhorn only dissenter to Joe Lopano's new contract

Miller was under extreme pressure in early 2010 due to a variety of negative published reports about his tenure. He ended up quitting, and shortly thereafter became the CEO at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Board member Joseph Diacco rebuffed Buckhorn, saying the authority had no intention of dumping Miller. Buckhorn responded, "Why would we give up the ability to have that trump card?"

Board member Robert Watkins said the provision could give Lopano a sense of insecurity, and make it difficult for him to make a long-term commitment to TIA. When pressed further by Buckhorn, Watkins said the new provisions were designed to make sure the airport didn't lose Lopano.

"Have there been any offers?" Buckhorn asked.

"Not to my knowledge," Watkins responded.

There has been speculation out of Dallas that Lopano was a candidate for the top job there, which certainly made sense in that their current CEO is departing, and Lopano has roots in that community and previously worked at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for 14 years.

Buckhorn then wondered what security the aviation authority was getting out of the deal?

He didn't receive a clear answer.

The only other board member who was considered a possible "no" to the new deal was Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who in his initial questioning seemed to accept why the board wanted to give him more money. But his questioning, following Buckhorn's remarks, was sharper.

"I need to know unquestionably, that if we make a decision to do this today, that there will be no more BS about it," Crist said, seeming to shock Lopano and some members of the overflow audience with his directness.

"I feel like this is an appropriate contract," the new CEO responded.

Coming to his defense was board chairman Steve Burton, who said the pay raise was his idea, not Lopano's.

"Based on the current contract, Joe Lopano could be lured away and completely comply with the origins of the contract," he said.

Since starting the job on January 1, 2011, Lopano has received two pay raises and two contract extensions before today's latest proposal, eliciting harsh reactions from the editorial pages of both the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa Tribune, who wrote today that the "Aviation Authority shouldn't go into financial hysterics just because Lopano, like all effective leaders, may have other job opportunities."

Lopano currently makes an annual salary of $315,000 a year.

  • Bob Buckhorn

In his short tenure as head of Tampa International Airport, Joe Lopano has established himself as one of the preeminent leaders in the Tampa Bay area. Unfortunately though, he's been in the news nearly as much for his various pay raises as he has for accomplishments at TIA.

The latest controversy over his pay was resolved today when his bosses, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, voted 4-1 to pay him an additional $100,000 a year over five years in deferred compensation as an incentive for him to stay with the authority. He won't get that money unless he is still CEO at the end of five years from today. The new contract also removed the aviation authority's ability to fire him without cause.

But as the lone board member to oppose that plan, Mayor Bob Buckhorn asked fellow board member Robert Watkins why the board would remove that provision allowing them to fire Lopano without cause, since it appeared that's what the board intended to do with his predecessor, Louis Miller.

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