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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Editorials

Aviation Authority going overboard

Published:

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority has good reason to want Tampa International Airport Chief Executive Joe Lopano to stay on the job.

He’s brought energy, innovation and vision to the operation. He’s diversified revenues and cut costs. His strong marketing skills have proved valuable as the airport pursues new routes and he is strongly engaged in the region’s economic development efforts.

But Lopano’s impressive record does not justify the board abandoning its fiscal responsibility in its quest to keep him from exploring other job possibilities.

A proposal to add more than $500,000 to Lopano’s retirement if he stays five years is excessive.

The amendment to his contract is scheduled to be considered by the authority today. It was prompted by reports Lopano might be considered for other airport jobs. But the measure not only dramatically increases an already reasonable contract, it ignores the past problems Hillsborough County has had with overly generous pay packages.

A few years ago, the public was aghast to learn former Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean would collect more than $400,000 after commissioners fired her from her $224,000-a-year job for increasing her pay without informing them.

The county contested the severance package, but Bean’s contract protected her.

This proposal would add $105,000 a year to Lopano’s retirement account each year for five years, when he would be vested for the entire amount.

But should he be fired before that time, the contract specifies “the account will become immediately vested and nonforfeitable in the amounts previously credited ….” So he would be entitled to whatever money had accumulated in the account. It appears the authority learned nothing from the Bean debacle.

Sure, it’s difficult to imagine the conscientious Lopano doing anything that would merit termination. But contracts should be based on good policy, not individuals.

Lopano is seen as a hot commodity in the industry and may well be targeted by other airports, including the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where he previously worked.

But that is no cause for the board to start spraying money out of a fire hose.

TIA already has been generous to Lopano, who took over in 2011.

He makes $315,000 a year, and as the Tribune’s Ted Jackovics reports, he received $65,000 in raises last year.

Lopano earns $62,000 more than the director of the Orlando International Airport, which handles twice as many passengers. That doesn’t bother us. Attracting new flights to TIA is more challenging than getting people to come to Disney World. But the numbers suggest that Lopano’s pay is in line with the market.

We admire what Lopano is doing and hope he is at TIA for a long time. But his current contract is reasonable. The Aviation Authority shouldn’t go into financial hysterics just because Lopano, like all effective leaders, may have other job opportunities.

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