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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
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Henderson: Buckhorn to Lopano: Do your job

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That’s the one-word answer any time the question is how much to pay Tampa International Airport Chief Executive Joe Lopano. It seems to come up a lot.

He got a $50,000 raise in January 2012 after one year on the job, but by the fall his pay increased by another $15,000. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s an annual take-home of $315,000, way more than his equivalent makes for running the much-busier Orlando International Airport.

Apparently, that’s not enough.

Last month, the airport’s governing board studied how to give Lopano — yep — more. Late Tuesday, we learned there is a proposal to sock another $500,000 into his retirement account if he will just please STAY HERE for at least five years. The board will take this up today.

I asked Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who also sits on the aviation board, what he thinks about all that.

“I’m getting really tired of this, candidly,” he said. “If Joe spent more time doing his job and less time worrying about his salary, we might have more flights. For a minimum, we ought to take a month and study this so we don’t ramrod this through.

“All we are doing is paying for potential. If I were Joe, I’d let my performance speak for itself and then bring it up when his contract is due. Derek Jeter doesn’t run to the Steinbrenners to ask for an extra million dollars every time he hits a home run.”

If this retirement plan goes through, Lopano’s annual compensation would jump by more than $100,000 a year — more than the combined salaries of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Buckhorn.

While we’re on the subject, when is the last time you got a raise?

Lopano’s contract runs until 2016, but there was scuttlebutt he could be in line for the top job at Dallas-Fort Worth International.

“Has there been an offer?” Buckhorn said.

Doesn’t appear to be.

Lopano has been praised for his aggressive pursuit of international flights for Tampa, and local businesspeople love that, but he hasn’t had a lot of success beyond hooking up a weekly charter flight to Switzerland.

That brings up another point. They seem to have a lot more money than self-awareness at the airport.

Tampa International just spent $75,000 on what, in my opinion, was a frivolous legal trademark battle over the name of Brooksville’s airport. And we still don’t know why a defective elevator was in service last month when a passenger fell to his death down the shaft.

Given that, is this really the best time to be throwing more money at Lopano?

It’s amazing what a well-circulated rumor will do.

Lopano could do like most of us and sock a little away each payday into a good 401(k) or mutual fund. I would imagine a lot of folks work a lifetime, diligently saving as best they can, and don’t have close to $500,000 socked away.

Then again, most people don’t have a friendly board with a one-word manta.

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