Joe Lopano, Tampa International Airport's CEO for the last nine months, put out a news release Wednesday to say he wouldn't accept an increase in his $250,000 salary during such tough economic times.
When the airport's governing board offered a $50,000 raise Thursday, he declined again.
But when board chairman Steven Burton suggested a bonus moments later, Lopano said he'd "be happy to entertain a bonus for performance.''
Board members will discuss a new executive bonus plan at a workshop Oct. 20.
The issue of compensating Lopano above and beyond what his contract provides split the five-member board. He has held the job since Jan. 1, coming to Tampa from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the nation's fourth-largest airport.
Three members appointed by Florida governors — Burton, Robert Watkins and Joseph Diaco — were in favor of the raise. The board's two elected officials — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and County Commissioner Victor Crist — voted against it.
"Joe is a crown jewel,'' Crist said. "But it's too early to do this. I think (we need) at least a year.''
Buckhorn insisted the board abide by Lopano's contract, which requires a performance evaluation after six months but included nothing about a raise or bonus.
"Don't do it on hope,'' Buckhorn said. "Nine months is not enough time to make that kind of decision."
Buckhorn and other board members give Lopano high marks for his energy and can-do spirit.
He overhauled the airport's management structure and championed an incentive program to attract new airlines and routes. New nonstop flights to Cuba began last month, and Swiss carrier Edelweiss announced twice-weekly flights to Zurich starting in May 2012.
Lopano came into a "turnaround situation'' at TIA following the resignation of 14-year executive director Louis Miller, Watkins said.
Failing to give him a raise would send the wrong message to professionals who might relocate to Tampa, Watkins said.
"It's important to do this irrespective of Joe refusing it,'' he said.
Burton proposed that "inconsistencies'' in Lopano's employment contract, as well as bonus plans, be on the workshop agenda. His motion passed 3-2, with Buckhorn and Crist voting no.
The problem, Burton said, was that review requirements in contracts typically carry a salary adjustment.
In addition to his $250,000 salary, Lopano gets a $49,000 pension contribution and $6,000 car allowance, a total of $312,500 annually. He also receives a $3,000 monthly housing allowance through Dec. 31.
Lopano received a base salary of $262,642 and total annual compensation of $358,142 for the job he left at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Lopano said Thursday that he thought his contract's evaluation requirement would trigger a pay adjustment.
"I'd really like to get the salary I had'' in Dallas, he said.
Contact Steve Huettel at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.