Corruption at airport continues – CEO gets huge and guaranteed raises

Today’s Aviation Authority meeting agenda didn’t list an action item for a contract renewal for Tampa International Airport’s CEO Joe Lopano. In fact, it didn’t list an action item at all, only routine items for approval under the consent agenda.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano

Nonetheless, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA) board today voted 3-2 to approve a new 5-year contract for Lopano. The contract gives him an immediate 7% raise to a salary of $544,000 per year, with guaranteed 5% raises in subsequent years. Lopano’s total compensation package before the raise was “around $800,000 per year,” according to Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, who voted “no” to the raise.

Lopano is already the 4th highest paid airport CEO in the nation, despite the airport only being the 27th busiest. His raise comes as TPA faces insolvency due to a decline in revenue, primarily caused by the pandemic, and increasing costs.

“I do not believe that this process was as transparent as it could have been,” White told The Guardian when asked about how this major item was voted on without being on the agenda. Lopano’s contract was also not in the hundred of pages of meeting backup documentation available on the agency’s website prior to the meeting.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White

White said that this was only his second HCAA meeting, but that he plans to “advocate for more transparency and support HCAA Board processes and policies which promote transparency.”

The State of Florida has already advocated for such transparency, to no avail. As we previously reported, a  2018 State of Florida Auditor General report was critical of the methodology for setting executive salaries at the airport, and of the lack of transparency. A follow-up audit 14 months later in 2020 found that the HCAA “had not corrected” the problem.

“I think it is unconscionable that an executive whose total package is around $800,000 per year received a 7% raise in the middle of a pandemic, when many people have struggled to maintain employment,” White also said.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was the only other “no” vote and she said that she thought the new contract was arrived at through a transparent and defensible process.

We have previously reported on how HCAA violated their own written policy in hiring politically connected Bay News 9 anchor Veronica Cintron for $233,00 per year. She didn’t even have to apply for the job, she was just given it.

However, as the Aviation Authority faces insolvency due to the pandemic and an ill-considered expansion, property owners in Hillsborough County could potentially be made to foot the bill. The airport has ad valorem taxing authority in Hillsborough County, an authority it has not used since the 1960’s.

White said he would oppose any such taxation because “the Airport has the ability to manage its external revenue sources in such a way as to not need to levy a tax.”

Governor DeSantis media liaison did not respond to our questions for this article. The three gubernatorial appointees on the HCAA board, all of whom voted “yes” to Lopano’s generous pay increase, were not appointed by DeSantis.

Corruption of process is also corruption, and a public agency not giving public notice of important decisions is exactly that. Is 66-year-old Joe Lopano trying to harvest as much taxpayer cash as he can before retires? And why would the Greyhound Set agree to be taxed to subsidize the Jet Set?

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

 

 

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