Despite establishment resistance, Aviation Authority makes Joe Lopano richer

As all media outlets do when discussing Lopano, the editorial praised Lopano for the changes he's made at the airport in his first year on the job, but said his agenda was still developing. And it concluded thus:

Lopano has made a good early impression, and the community has responded in kind. But his supporters do him no favor by pushing a large, immediate pay increase in this tough economic climate. While the votes may be there, the administration also has nothing to gain from a vote that alienates the mayor. Ideally, the board should defer a decision and look in the coming months to reach a stronger consensus on Lopano's performance and the adequacy of his pay. If the board is determined to reward Lopano today, it should settle on a more reasonable amount and then move on to bigger issues.

That editorial followed a column in Wednesday's Times by Sue Carlton that also said such a raise was too soon.

Lopano's annual salary was bumped to $300,000 from $250,000.

Perhaps not surprisingly in a region that has been as hard-hit as any in the country by foreclosures and unemployment, the masses aren't exactly rejoicing from the rooftops about the 18 percent raise for Lopano. Here's a typical comment from the Times site:

Attention Board!! What was the point of having a contract? A contract spells out the terms of employment (salary and duration of contract, etc.). The end of the contract term is when you address salary changes and extension of time. Whether he was doing a great job is irrelevent [sic]. He had a contract. Abide by it. @#$%&!

However the supporters of the pay raise, led by Chair Steve Burton, were strong supporters of boosting Lopano's pay back in October, and equally as zealous in their advocacy in early January.

Lopano has not voiced any concerns publicly that he would leave TIA if he did not receive the raise, but had indicated that he thought he deserved such compensation, which is still less than he made as executive vice president in charge of marketing at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

In the year-plus he's been at TIA, Lopano has impressed everyone in his path, in part because Tampa Bay has rarely had such an aggressive, energetic chief executive in such a public position. Hired with a mandate to bring more international direct flights to the airport, he scored last year in getting flights to Zurich, Switzerland with Edelweiss Airlines.

His press has been dazzling, with the exception of some issues regarding money. Prior to his contract raise and extension, his only previous bad publicity involved having TIA execs fly business class.

Lopano was also mocked in a national blog back in September for spending hundreds of dollars to woo airline execs, though as he told CL last year:

"We're trying to recruit a $200 million airplane that can generate $150 million to our community… It happens over time, and it happens in restaurants and golf courses. And they begin to like you and trust you and make a commitment to you that they will do this."

If the criticism bothers him, he doesn't show it. "The safe thing is to be a bureaucrat and sit behind a desk... I'm using the techniques that have been successful, and I hope the community will embrace the marketing techniques that are necessary to bring $150 million in economic benefit."

  • TIA head Joe Lopano

Despite protestations from the establishment in Tampa, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority said screw all that and gave Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano a $50,000 raise and one-year contract extension Thursday morning, less than two weeks after his first anniversary on the job.

The vote was a close one at 3-2, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, the two elected officials on the Authority, voting no, as they had said they would.

The result came hours after board members absorbed a Tampa Bay Times editorial that said it was too early for such a raise and contract extension.

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