Chamber of Commerce Dismisses CEO

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 25, 2009 - 06:46:00 PM

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has removed CEO Ted Garrett from office and is seeking a new candidate for the position, chamber officials announced last week.  

Jonathan DeYoe, chair of the chamber’s board of directors and head of DeYoe Wealth Management in Berkeley, did not provide any specifics about Garrett’s dismissal except to say that “he was let go.”  

“There were some things he was really really good at and some things he wasn’t so good at, so we needed someone else to carry on the work,” DeYoe said. “He was really good at outreach—one of the things we loved about Ted is that he was able to connect with the community really well. He shook things up a bit. So that was not a problem at all. That was good stuff.”  

Garrett, who lives in Berkeley, directed all queries to DeYoe.  

Rose Garden Inn owner Kevin Allen has been named interim CEO. Allen declined to comment on Garrett’s dismissal.  

In an e-mail sent to chamber members Wednesday, March 18, the executive board said the organization’s new mission statement, crafted in 2008, would focus on helping local businesses prosper during a tough economy, making it imperative for the chamber to launch a search for a new CEO who would help meet those goals.  

“The position must be filled with a dynamic and strong candidate,” the e-mail said. “With an enthusiastic and active executive board, rising membership, solid financial strength, and our newly stated roadmap objectives, we must appoint an excellent candidate to lead the chamber as we evolve into a more forceful and active presence.”  

Roland Peterson, a member of the chamber’s executive board and chair of the Telegraph Improvement Business District, said Garrett was hired in July 2007 to bring a much needed boost to the chamber’s flagging membership.  

“The chamber board was looking for someone with a little bit of energy and enthusiasm to build up the membership,” said Peterson.  

Rachel Rupert, who served as CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce for 19 years, retired in 2007, prompting the chamber to search for a new leader.  

Garrett had previously served as the executive director for several downtown associations and business improvement districts in San Diego, Oceanside and Los Altos.  

The hiring of Garrett followed on the heels of a controversy surrounding the chamber’s political action committee (PAC), which filed its November 2006 municipal election contribution statements with Alameda County instead of the City of Berkeley.  

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission had advised the city and the PAC’s attorneys that the committee should file its campaign contribution statements with the city.  

The PAC dissolved in 2007 after spending more than $100,000 in the 2006 election to re-elect Mayor Tom Bates, to defeat Measure J (the Landmark Preservation Ordinance), and to try to unseat councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring.  

Garrett focused on improving the membership at the chamber, reaching out to new businesses.  

“He was pretty successful at it the first year—more successful than I thought,” Peterson said. “Things had leveled off to a certain extent, at least that’s what I feel, and I give Ted a certain amount of credit for that.”  

As for meeting the expectations of the chamber’s new goals, Peterson said that the organization was working hard to make its presence more prominent in the city.  

“We would like to become a resource for new businesses to get started,” he said. “Usually they have to jump through a lot of hoops in the city when they first move here. We would like to make things easier for them.”  

DeYoe said the chamber would try to become more involved in the Berkeley City Council meetings and provide advice to business owners, among other things.  

“Three years ago the chamber was kind of quiet,” he said. “We did have a presence in a lot of places, but we want to have an even greater presence. We want to become a positive influence on the community.”  

Deborah Badhia, executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said that the chamber had the potential to become a tremendous resource for businesses all over the city.  

“I look forward to the chamber hiring a new person who will work as an ally for the business community,” she said.  

According to the e-mail sent out by the chamber, a search committee has already been formed to find a new CEO within the next several months who “would act as a diplomatic yet forceful spokesperson for the newly adopted mission statement, identify key strategic partners and communicate clearly with members, partners, businesses, city staff and elected officials to establish a clear dialogue and goals to further accountability and progress.”  

The new CEO will continue to focus on expanding membership, developing fundraising sources and support existing businesses, the letter said.  

“He has to be a spokesperson for the chamber as well as keep everything running—finances as well as staff,” Allen said. “I am really excited to get this chance and hope to serve for two to three months. Once we find the right person, I will hand the reins over to him and teach him the ropes of the job.”