Bonuses pitched at Enterprise Florida, Space Florida

  • August 18, 2015
  • /   Jim Turner
  • /   economy

Florida’s Historic Capitol and Florida State Capitol, Tallahassee / Michael Rivera, Wikimedia Commons

TALLAHASSEE — Boards of two state-backed agencies focused on bringing business and jobs to Florida will be asked this week to approve bonus packages for top staff members.

On Wednesday, the Space Florida Board of Directors will vote on bonuses that range from 5 percent to 50 percent, with the largest potential amount lined up for Frank DiBello, president and chief executive officer of the quasi-governmental agency.

A day later, the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, which like Space Florida will meet at the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra Beach, will be asked to approve up to $765,000 in combined bonuses divided up among its first-year president and his staff.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has made job creation the mantra of his time in office, sits on both boards.

Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Florida, said Monday there is no breakdown on how the money, if approved, will be individually allocated.

Enterprise Florida's Finance and Compensation Committee, which will meet Wednesday, will propose an amount for the board to consider for the agency's president.

Enterprise Florida President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson, the former director of PortMiami, signed a $265,000-a-year contract in February to run the economic-development agency, which receives state and private funding.

Last August, the board approved a separate $765,000 bonus package that included $120,000 for former president Gray Swoope, who left for the private sector earlier this year.

Swoope's bonus exceeded a $100,000 cap that was in his contract.

Officials with Enterprise Florida explained that Swoope's contract allowed the board to go over the cap when the agency exceeds its annual goals. Johnson's contract has a similar cap, Frady noted.

Frady added that the money for the bonuses doesn't come from the state funding. But Ben Wilcox, of the watchdog group Integrity Florida, said with $51.5 million in state money going to Enterprise Florida this year, the bonus funding "really is public money."

"That is money that could be used for something that is being funded with the public money," Wilcox said.

At Space Florida, Dale Ketcham, the agency's chief of strategic alliance, said it hasn't given bonuses in the past, and the comprehensive compensation plan has been discussed for several years as a way to keep the agency competitive with seaports and airports.

"It just sets a standard against which people can be evaluated and judged," Ketcham said.

Under the plan, the maximum amounts of each bonus would depend on employees' positions.

Of the 36 employees, top executives would have a chance to receive larger bonuses, as the percentage for the one-time payment grows the higher in the company an employee sits.

Under the plan, some employees could receive a bonus worth 5 percent of their pay while DiBello, who is paid $267,952 a year, would be eligible to receive up to 50 percent of his pay --- $133,976.

Ketcham said because of the state money involved at the agency, which in part leases federal government land to private firms, no one is surprised with the public interest in the plan.

"Whether you're a university professor, a university president, Frank DiBello or Enterprise Florida, or the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, it's just the price of doing business," Ketcham said. "But by the same token, we owe it to the taxpayers to make sure the state can compete."

The bonus plan comes as the state legislature has reduced funding for Space Florida by $2.5 million, to $10 million for the current fiscal year.

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