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Ex-Commerce Authority leader gets $60K bonus

The former chief executive of the Arizona Commerce Authority will receive a $60,000 discretionary bonus after quitting with more than two years left on a three-year contract and returning to his private businesses.

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer told The Arizona Republic it’s his understanding that private funds will pay for Don Cardon’s bonus.

Cardon drew a $300,000 annual salary as Commerce Authority CEO, and he was eligible to receive a discretionary bonus of up to $75,000.

Critics have questioned whether Cardon’s compensation was excessive and have criticized the Commerce Authority for a lack of transparency with public funds.

Commerce officials contend they have been overly transparent and say Cardon’s salary and bonus were in line with industry standards.

The Commerce Authority’s executive committee voted Wednesday to give Cardon nearly 81 percent of the maximum bonus amount based on the number of new jobs the authority says were created in Arizona during his tenure.

Capital investment made in the state and long-term policy and strategy advancement achieved during the past fiscal year also factored into the bonus. Brewer also approved the contract, which was released publicly Thursday.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor supports the “contract closeout” with Cardon.

The executive committee also voted to increase the pay of Sandra Watson, interim chief executive and president, by 15 percent, to $218,500.

Both actions drew criticism from Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell of Phoenix, the Republic reported.

“The Arizona Commerce Authority is a runaway train,” Campbell said. “This organization is handing out pay raises and bonuses to insiders. This kind of Wall Street mentality is dangerous, and it has to stop.”

Just more than half of Cardon’s bonus came because the Commerce Authority said Cardon helped create 5,610 jobs and $401 million in new capital investment.

However, not all of those jobs and capital investment funds will have been created on his watch.

Instead, Cardon is being credited for jobs and capital investment that businesses have promised to create during the next two years, even though he no longer is chief executive. The closeout contract did not break down how many jobs were created so far, or the capital investment that occurred during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Nor did the contract offer future projections.

Brewer and the Legislature created the Commerce Authority to attract jobs to Arizona. Although it is a state agency, private business leaders sit on the board and Brewer is chairwoman.

“I’m very proud of the work that was done by the governor and the Legislature, and I was blessed to be a part of it,” Cardon said.

Benson said it was his understanding that TEAM ACA, a nonprofit fundraising organization with close ties to the Commerce Authority, will later reimburse the state for the amount of Cardon’s bonus.

Cardon is now the paid executive director of TEAM ACA. He said his group next week will pay the state for his bonus, as well as for half of his salary while he was CEO.

Cardon announced Jan. 11 that he would resign from the Commerce Authority and return to running his businesses. Following a public uproar over the fact that he quit after taking the taxpayer-funded signing bonus, Cardon said he would return it.