TAMPA — The board that oversees Tampa International Airport on Thursday approved a $50,000 raise and one-year contract extension for CEO Joe Lopano.
The vote was 3-2, with the elected officials on the board voting no.
The changes were negotiated by Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board chairman Steve Burton, who said the raise reflects Lopano's strong performance in his first year.
Lopano actually deserved an even bigger raise, Burton said, based on the CEO salaries of comparable U.S. and international airports.
"He really should be paid more,'' Burton said, calling Lopano "a forthright man of honor and integrity.'' The contract extension, he said, is consistent with how the board has dealt with previous airport directors.
There was little discussion before the vote.
Hillsborough County Commissioner and board member Victor Crist praised Lopano — "Joe, I love you …'' he began — but said it was too early for a raise and contract extension.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also voted against the motion but did not speak. He previously said he also thought it was too early to reward Lopano with a raise and contract extension.
Lopano, who rejected the same raise three months ago because of the troubled economy, agreed to accept the money this time and thanked the board for its support.
Pressed about whether the economy had improved enough in three months to change his mind, Lopano simply said he was happy with the board's support and looked forward to focusing on attracting new flights to the airport. He was briskly led away as reporters pressed him to elaborate.
Lopano's total compensation will now be $355,000, just under what he was paid as executive vice president of marketing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport before joining TIA.
Burton said he was sympathetic to the economic plight of many Floridians, but noted the airport is one of the biggest economic engines in the Tampa Bay area and Lopano is focused on creating jobs and improving the economy.
"There are people out of work and that's the main reason to turn this place around,'' he said.
Burton pointed to nonstop flights four days a week to Cuba that already have begun, and the twice-weekly flights to Zurich by Swiss carrier Edelweiss beginning in May as examples of Lopano's success. Both will mean millions of dollars in economic impact, he said.
And Lopano has vowed to attract more.
To accommodate increased international travel, the board unanimously agreed Thursday to spend $27.6 million to renovate Airside F, its main terminal for international travelers. The first phase would be completed by Nov. 30 and the final phase by the fall of 2013.