As he’s stepped into his new role, the newly-appointed interim CEO of the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce promised transparency but did not offer much specifics as to how he would lead the organization in light of Orange County prosecutors looking into how it spent millions of dollars in tax money earmarked for promoting hotels and tourism.

Dave Coffaro, a strategy consultant who is helming the chamber after CEO Bryan Starr left in January to “pursue a new opportunity,” said that his focus is to ensure chamber members “thrive” so that the “community benefits.”

In November, the city of Irvine was asked by Deputy District Attorney Avery T. Harrison for about 20 years’ worth of records regarding the Hotel Improvement District, established in 2002 to generate taxes for a tourism bureau. The chamber was brought in to administer the bureau, called Destination Irvine, which promoted hotels and tourism in Orange County’s third most populous city.

Local hoteliers, suspecting that too much of the money went to chamber overhead, persuaded the city early last year to create a special board to take over management of the taxes. The money is now administered by a seven-member board consisting of city and hotel officials, which found that the chamber was charging 60% to 70% in overhead, according to City Manager Oliver Chi.

When asked how the chamber will manage without the overhead, Coffaro said he “doesn’t have all the answers to the questions about our revenue.”

“What I do know is really a simple philosophy as we begin our 45th year,” he said. “We’re doing exactly the same as we did in our first year, which is focusing on our members.”

The DA’s questions are an invitation for conversation, he added.

“We’re a very transparent organization,” Coffaro said. “My view is that we want to share where we are, where we’re going, how we get there, how we continue to earn relevance with our members.”

Hotel groups had alleged that the chamber wouldn’t share with them how it was administering the money. But Coffaro said the process for approving the budget for the Hotel Improvement District was “fully transparent.”

“The process … is something that involved the hoteliers, it involved auditors examining budgets after, in fact, they were implemented, and it was submitted to the city,” he said.

Cost accounting is complicated, Coffaro said, and he understands people having questions. But he said he doesn’t believe that there is anything that is questionable; he said that “everything was done in full transparency.”

Related Articles

Local News |

State wants to limit Huntington Beach’s development authority

Local News |

Words can mean life or death for ballot measures, including a November one in Santa Ana

Local News |

San Clemente council majority votes to require gun owners safely store weapons when out of reach

Local News |

Huntington Beach councilmembers still have questions about how city is re-cataloging children’s books

Local News |

How far has Anaheim taken its reforms?

He said he wasn’t aware if the DA had reached out to the chamber directly or had requested any information.

A longtime Orange County resident, Coffaro ran a consulting firm for the last five years, and before that, he spent about 25 years in banking. He isn’t new to the interim CEO position; Coffaro said this is his fourth interim role, the most recent being in Florida for Tampa-based financial institution Members Trust Company.

Prior to that, he served twice as interim CEO of Irvine-based Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.

“But my philosophy is always the same: understand the stakeholders, understand what’s important to them, find a way to deliver what’s important and see if there are opportunities to grow,” he said.

In his new role, Coffaro said what’s most important to him is keeping his door open to chamber members as well as non-members.

“This is an open invitation to let us know what they think, their concerns and what the future looks like,” he said.

Staff writer Tony Saavedra contributed to this report.