TAMPA — The chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is proposing a $50,000 raise for CEO Joe Lopano and a one-year contract extension.
While extending his contract to Jan. 1, 2015, is new, the raise is the same one that a majority of the board offered and Lopano rejected in October.
Lopano said at the time he would not accept the raise because of the tough economy. But this time he is prepared to take the money, despite opposition from the board's two elected officials, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and County Commissioner Victor Crist, who say it's too soon. Lopano took over a year ago.
The raise would lift his total compensation to $355,000, just under what he was paid at his previous job as executive vice president of marketing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
A majority of the board favors the raise, but it is unclear if the same is true for the contract extension.
Crist said he was surprised by the proposed extension and finds it "blindsiding.'' He does not support it.
"That shouldn't have even been a consideration until we are at the table negotiating a new contract," Crist said. "That's something that you start looking at six months before this one starts to lapse. … A deal's a deal.''
Crist said he remains opposed to the raise but open to extending the $3,000 monthly housing allowance that expired Dec. 31.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn also opposes the raise and the contract extension. "It's just too early,'' he said. "I think he's done a good job, his potential is significant, but I want to see proof. I want to see results.''
Board member Robert Watkins said he will reserve final judgment until he hears from other board members at Thursday's meeting but is inclined to support both the raise and the contract extension.
"I think by all accounts, Joe has done a fabulous job,'' Watkins said.
All five board members have praised Lopano, giving him a nearly perfect rating on his annual evaluation last year. They singled out his energy, drive and focus on luring more international and West Coast flights to Tampa.
Matching his previous salary has been a goal of Lopano's since he took the reins at TIA after the abrupt departure of longtime TIA head Louis Miller, who now runs Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Board chairman Steve Burton negotiated the raise, details of which were released Tuesday. The board is scheduled to vote Thursday. Lopano is expected to accept the latest salary offer, but declined to comment.
Along with the raise, Burton proposed changing Lopano's contract to clarify that he would be compensated for moving his household belongings from storage to a home he is buying.
The contract also would be changed to reduce the amount of severance Lopano could receive, from no more than 18 months to a maximum of 20 weeks. The severance clause reflects a change in state law, though it was passed after Lopano's contract was approved.