Joe Lopano is off to a strong start in his first year as chief executive of Tampa International Airport. The airport has landed new nonstops to Switzerland and Cuba, created new revenue streams and begun improving its passenger terminals. But it is too early to give Lopano an outsized pay raise and another year on his contract.
The board of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees TIA, will consider today whether to raise Lopano's annual salary to $300,000 from $250,000. The move would bring his total compensation package, including pension contributions and a car allowance, to $355,000 a year. His supporters say the increase would be an important public acknowledgement of the positive direction Lopano is taking the airport. They also say a higher salary would help retain Lopano should another offer come his way.
Lopano's contract allows for an annual salary adjustment, so today's discussion is not entirely out of bounds. But he has been in the job barely a full year. Lopano is doing what the board wanted in making Tampa International more aggressive in recruiting and marketing flights. And he has been visible and convincing since arriving in positioning TIA to become a bigger player in the region's economy. But Lopano's agenda is still largely developing. The authority and the community need more time to judge whether his vision is the right course.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of two elected members of the five-member board, said he would rather discuss any raise after Lopano's next performance review, which must be conducted by August. Buckhorn has the right approach. The extra time would give Lopano the chance to develop several major initiatives on his plate, from a master plan for the airport to new marketing incentives. Nothing in Lopano's contract prevents the board from taking up a raise next month, in the spring or the summer.
The board also needs to justify the size of any raise. There is no basis for increasing Lopano's pay by 20 percent. Even half that would be generous, especially for a public servant with a one-year track record. And the proposal to extend Lopano's contract an extra year, to 2015, is out of place for today's discussion. There is no need to complicate an already sensitive debate over Lopano's pay with larger negotiations over his long-term future. The board has plenty of time to deal with that in the two years remaining on Lopano's contract.
Lopano has made a good early impression, and the community has responded in kind. But his supporters do him no favor by pushing a large, immediate pay increase in this tough economic climate. While the votes may be there, the administration also has nothing to gain from a vote that alienates the mayor. Ideally, the board should defer a decision and look in the coming months to reach a stronger consensus on Lopano's performance and the adequacy of his pay. If the board is determined to reward Lopano today, it should settle on a more reasonable amount and then move on to bigger issues.