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South Tampa

Chamber shops for executive director

Jay Furnari quits after less than a year, citing stress, conflicts and health problems.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 31, 2003

The South Tampa Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new executive director less than 10 months after hiring its last one.

Jay Furnari, 60, quit two weeks ago after what he called "a lot of stress."

"I wasn't happy; they weren't happy," he said Tuesday.

He declined to be more specific.

Chamber officials said Furnari's failure to beef up membership was a factor.

The board pressed Furnari earlier this month to step up recruitment -- a move Furnari didn't appreciate, said board member David Gutcher.

"There was a lot of hostility," he said.

Furnari said he exceeded chamber goals, signing 52 new members since his hiring in April.

Gutcher said 51 others didn't renew memberships.

"Some of the things we hoped would happen didn't happen," said Joe Dascola, incoming president of the 265-member chamber.

Personality conflicts and health problems may have factored into Furnari's resignation, too.

In October, chamber president Jerry Clark told City Times for a profile on Furnari that the amateur stage actor and former comedian sometimes "rubbed people the wrong way."

"I told him, 'Jay, you have big stature, a deep voice. ... Sometimes you intimidate people," Clark said at the time. "But he can change. He's a good actor."

Tension on the job threatened his health, Furnari said.

He suffered a heart attack four years ago and had other heart-related problems in recent months, he said.

Besides recruiting duties, Furnari organized chamber meetings and led workshops on customer service. He also pressed members to participate in the chamber's community programs, such as the Lunch Buddy program where members spent time with elementary school students.

Furnari worked in retail for decades before his chamber stint.

His new gig: running his own consulting firm to help nonprofit groups organize events and fundraisers.

"It's the best thing to happen to me in a while," he said.

The business group hopes to have a new executive director by April, Dascola said. The part-time position pays about $24,000 a year.

In the meantime, he and Clark will share administrative duties.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or .

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