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Another run for an airport raise? Say it ain't so, Joe

Contrary to what some of us might have suspected, our new Tampa International Airport CEO did not arrive with a wrecking ball ready to change what we modestly consider one of the best airports in America.

Joe Lopano has thus far not mucked about making our very convenient airport less so. He did not glitz up the place, hire Vegas showgirls as baggage handlers or install slot machines, though watch your Legislature on that one.

What he has done is run an airport that now boasts flights to Cuba and soon to Switzerland, with plans for a big expansion of its oldest airside to accommodate even more international flights, a Lopano priority.

So far, so good.

So Thursday, when the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority decides whether to give him a big (and controversial) $50,000 raise to get him to hang around a while, what I am thinking is:

Don't go, Joe. But no.

In this economy?

With We The People juggling pay cuts and pink slips and getting more cynical by the day about six-figure executives?

Lopano is, no question, a guy with the energy of a hurricane, except he is more likable, with big ideas and a personality to match. For this, he is paid the not-chump-change amount of $305,000 a year, which includes a $250,000 salary plus pension contributions and a car allowance.

Yes, this is less than the $358,142 package he had back at Dallas-Fort Worth. But the amount, part of a contract they are oh by the way also considering adding a year to, is also not exactly a surprise to him.

The two elected officials who sit on the aviation authority board, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, are both making the right noises about the bad smell of a big raise right about now. While the new guy is doing a great job, they say, it's early to talk of upping his take-home pay.

The mayor prudently wants to wait until Lopano's next performance review in the fall. Crist says a contract is a contract, though this week he was open to extending Lopano's housing allowance. (Note to Crist: We The Cynical know a raise when we see one.)

But the vibe from others on the board is: Pay him to keep him.

And, was he thinking of leaving us already?

Here is a thing you have to sort of like about the guy: Whether it's political savvy or genuine concern, Lopano has shown himself to be fast on his feet.

The subject of a $50,000 raise came up last fall when he was on the job for all of nine months — backed by board chairman Steve Burton, to put Lopano in line with his previous salary.

But in the flurry of headlines, Lopano himself turned it down, citing the economy.

He made earlier headlines with a plan to allow airport executives including himself to fly pricier business class on long flights instead of in the cheap seats, like they do at other major Florida airports. Lopano withdrew this also-not-well-received plan "after further thought and reflection."

This is called being a quick study.

But sometimes, quick is too quick. And sometimes a contract is a contract.

And a new guy with big ideas should get the full appreciation he deserves — when the time comes.

Another run for an airport raise? Say it ain't so, Joe 01/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 7:56pm]

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