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Don Cardon, Arizona’s million-dollar man

Don Cardon, president and CEO of the new Arizona Commerce Authority and director of the state Commerce Department, says the economic health of rural communities is vital to the the state’s overall economic growth. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jennifer A. Johnson)

The CEO of the fledgling Arizona Commerce Authority will collect a base salary that will nearly double his pay compared to when he was the director of the now-defunct Arizona Department of Commerce.

Don Cardon’s total compensation package will include a $300,000 base salary, plus a $1,000 per month vehicle allowance and a $50,000 signing bonus his first year. He is also eligible for private-sector bonuses and other perks.

The salary package, approved today by the Arizona Commerce Authority board of directors, came over the objections of House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Russell Pearce.

“I am thankful for the work this commission has done,” Tobin said. “I do, however, believe, with the issues facing our state today, that this compensation package is not one that I can support.”

Pearce’s concerns echoed Tobin’s.

“In this climate, this environment, we are dealing with taxpayer dollars as well as compensation to retain the best and the brightest,” he said. “It’s a tough balance…. But I have to express my concerns and my opposition to the current proposal.”

All told, Cardon could receive up to $362,000 of state money as total compensation for the first year and $312,000 for the next two years, for a total of $986,000 over the duration of his three-year contract. And after three years, he would be eligible to renew his contract on a yearly basis. If he does, Cardon will receive another $50,000 bonus.

As director of the former Arizona Department of Commerce, Cardon’s base salary was $183,000 a year, of which 35 percent, or $64,050, was federal money.

Other perks in his new contract, include a potential $75,000 bonus, paid for by private money, if his performance is on target. That would be determined by the ACA’s “Compensation Committee,” to which Gov. Jan Brewer appointed Mary Peters of Mary Peters Consulting, Michael Manson, executive chairman of Motor Excellence, and Tim Jeffries, the founder of P7 Enterprises.

The package also includes a $30,000 supplemental allowance, also paid for by private money. That allowance would reimburse him for any out-of-pocket medical costs, cost of life insurance, or other incidentals not covered by the ACA.

The Board will have to determine how the private money will be collected and allocated but spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer said that the ACA has a conflict of interest policy that the board members would have to keep in mind.

The package was unanimously approved by voice vote via teleconference. Hellmer said Cardon was unavailable for comment.

Pearce and Tobin, the only members to voice an objection, are ex-officio members of the Commerce Authority, which means that they do not have a vote.

Although none of the Commerce Authority members had time for media availability after the teleconference, ACA Vice President Jerry Colangelo released a statement praising the board for approving Cardon’s compensation package.

“This move sends a signal that this position, and the organization as a whole, is of utmost importance and requires a visionary leader to bring Arizona to the forefront of a global marketplace,” he said in the statement.

The ACA was created as a part of last year’s “jobs bill” to oversee the newly created $25 million deal-closing fund and to attract businesses to Arizona. Besides Brewer, Colangelo and Cardon, the board includes 16 board members, mostly business leaders from the private sector.

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