The people who run Tampa International Airport need to remember that they operate a public agency. That should be particularly true today as TIA's governing board considers another compensation bump for airport director Joe Lopano. While Lopano is off to a good start and there is every reason to want him to stay, this proposal goes overboard.
In the two years he has been here, Lopano has received two pay raises and two contract extensions; he's now earning $355,000 a year in salary and benefits. That's comfortable for any executive in the Tampa Bay area, especially one whose track record of accomplishment is still being fleshed out.
But three board members — Steven Burton, Joseph Diaco and Robert Watkins — voted last month to renegotiate Lopano's contract again in an effort to keep him from being poached by another airport. Lopano has not to TIA's knowledge applied for another job or been approached. But his name has surfaced for the chief executive opening at his former employer, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Lopano's board supporters said they wanted a no-compete deal that would pay Lopano for the privilege of giving TIA some certainty that he would remain on the job. But the proposal to pay him an additional $100,000 a year over five years in deferred compensation is too rich. The only thing the airport receives in return for a 33 percent pay raise every year is that Lopano shows up for work — an obligation for which he already is well paid.
There's another problem with the no-compete clause that the airport board will consider today. It does nothing to keep Lopano from looking for another job. And wasn't that the point? While leaving early would cost Lopano part or all of the longevity bonus, that would be new money he is not receiving now. And what's to stop him from negotiating the cost of leaving early into a new contract at a new airport?
Lopano and this board have spent too much time haggling over his pay. The purpose of a contract in this case is to provide Lopano job security and TIA the certainty of stable leadership. It is a two-way street, and there is something wrong when the two parties talk continuously about a need to enrich the relationship.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn opposed opening up the contract last month. Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who is also on the airport board and missed the March meeting, should join the mayor in opposing this latest handout. The board's three gubernatorial appointees need to show greater appreciation that the airport is a public institution. If other airports come calling, TIA can decide whether it wants to spend more to keep Lopano. But it's imprudent to throw this much money at what ifs.