John Wheat, the interim boss at Tampa International Airport, got a raise Thursday, but Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio quashed a move to bump his salary up to the $253,000 former executive director Louis Miller earned before he left last month.
"When someone steps in … you don't put them at the salary of the person who had 14 years experience," said Iorio. "You haven't earned it yet."
Since taking the airport's top position in March, Wheat kept earning his $212,000 salary as deputy executive director. He would have received another $41,000, a more than 19 percent raise, under a proposal floated by Al Austin, chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.
No one has replaced Wheat as deputy executive director, Austin said, so he has in effect been doing two jobs without an increase in pay.
Iorio, who serves on the authority board, argued that paying Wheat $253,000 — the top of the job's salary range — would keep the agency from paying the next executive director any less. The salary range now bottoms out at $169,000.
She suggested giving Wheat a 5 percent raise, retroactive to March 5 when he took the new job. Austin and board member Steven Burton voted for the lower raise.
Miller resigned in February after public criticism from Burton and Joseph Diaco, who were appointed to the board last summer by Gov. Charlie Crist.
The authority's legal staff prepared a solicitation for an executive search firm to identify candidates to replace Miller. But Iorio balked at that too, saying the staff's timetable didn't call for board members to talk with candidates before September.
"It is not a good situation" to leave an interim in charge for several months, she said. "I'd take this and shrink up the time line." Wheat, the No. 2 under Miller since 1999 at Tampa International and earlier in Salt Lake City, intends to compete for the full-time job.
In other business Thursday, the board, as expected, agreed to lease the former Continental Airlines reservations center to Moffitt Cancer Center. Moffitt plans to spend $9 million to $13 million to renovate the building into a center for chemotherapy and radiation.
Under a 20-year lease, the cancer center will pay $269,000 rent the first year with a 1.5 percent increase each year after. The Federal Aviation Administration must let airport officials change the land use before the lease is finalized.
Reach Steve Huettel at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.