Making the old guard sweat
Multnomah Athletic Club member launches rogue candidacy for trustees board
Bill Opray runs hours at a time playing tennis at Multnomah Athletic Club, but, he says, getting the exclusive, 111-year-old club to run a fair election is another story.
'All I want is a level playing field,' said Opray, a Lake Oswego real estate agent who is the first board of trustees candidate in decades not handpicked by the board itself.
Opray is one of five members seeking to fill four open seats on the 12-member board. The other four were nominated as a slate by a committee appointed by the board. This is the traditional method of choosing new trustees for the exclusive fitness and social club at the base of Portland's West Hills.
But this year Opray used an obscure provision in the organization's bylaws to become a candidate by gathering more than 270 signatures from members on a nominating petition. He quickly gathered the signatures for the Feb. 12 election by running on a populist platform that calls for more disclosure about the club's operations.
'The board is making a lot of unilateral decisions without consulting the members,' he said.
Opray's candidacy is a direct challenge to the committee system that has governed the club's operation for much of its existence. Trustees traditionally work their way up to the board by serving for years on the 40 committees that oversee everything from the organization's finances to its aquatic and cycling programs.
'The committee process really rewards those who don't rock the boat,' said Dale Kresge, a club member who is one of Opray's supporters. 'It rewards those who don't ask deep questions.'
Normally, the slate of candidates put forth by the nominating committee is elected as a block by a voice vote. But because of Opray's candidacy, the board has authorized a written, secret ballot for the vote. According to a Jan. 10 memo from General Manager Steve Tidrick, members must vote for four of the five candidates. Ballots with fewer than four votes will not be counted.
Opray said the new requirement dramatically increases the number of votes he must receive to be elected.
'This new rule makes it much harder for me to win,' he said. 'Everyone who supports me must also vote for three of the nominating committee's candidates. This guarantees that all of them will be receiving a lot of votes. I could come in last, simply because everyone has to vote for at least three of them.'
Kresge said he prepared a mathematical analysis that shows Opray must receive votes from more than 70 percent of those casting completed ballots to have a chance of winning. 'This is a deliberate attempt to manipulate the process,' Kresge said.
Tidrick denies the allegation.
'We have four vacancies that must be filled,' Tidrick said. 'If everyone voted for the same candidate, we'd still have four vacancies.'
Tidrick also defends the traditional method of nominating candidates.
'The nominating committee recruits candidates who have shown leadership on the committees,' he said. Opray has been a member for three years and has not served on any committees.
Barry Caplan, one of the four candidates put forth by the nominating committee, hopes the controversy does not sully the good name of the club. Caplan has no opinion on Opray or his candidacy, but expects the organization to continue on as usual regardless of the election results.
'Four people will be elected, and the club will go on,' said Caplan, a lawyer with Sussman Shank LLP. 'Let's keep this in perspective.'
But member Larry Dully, another Opray supporter, said the challenge is the talk of the club.
'They're talking about it when I go in every morning,' Dully said. They're talking about it in the barber shop.'
A $20 million budget
Kresge agrees that Opray's challenge is not a serious scandal saying, 'This is the MAC Club, not a world crisis.'
But Opray's point is that the approximately 20,000 members deserve to know what the club does with its $20 million budget. That's a lot of money, he said, adding that the current board is unwilling to share the details with the members.
According to Opray, the club's four restaurants are currently losing more than $700,000 a year, and he thinks the members should decide whether that's appropriate. 'Some of us wonder why we should be subsidizing the restaurants,' he said.
The Multnomah Athletic Club is one of the city's most prestigious private membership organizations. Its membership includes many of the city's top movers and shakers. Originally started as a sports club, it has expanded during the years to include a broad range of athletic, social and civic activities.
The organization was started by a 26-member football team in 1891, and the first clubhouse was built in 1911. It adjoined a 35,000-seat football stadium that hosted football games and greyhound racing.
The stadium was sold to the city of Portland in 1966 for $2.3 million, becoming Civic Stadium and providing the organization with enough money to substantially expand its facilities. The last of the original buildings was torn down and replaced in the mid-1970s. Membership was capped at 20,000 in the early 1980s.
The organization currently operates 566,000 square feet of facilities on four city blocks. The sprawling brick buildings include three gymnasiums, three swimming pools, 10 racquetball courts, 10 squash courts, six tennis courts, an indoor track, an indoor batting cage and four restaurants.
New members are selected by lotteries held every three years. Families pay up to $8,000 to join, while individual memberships are $4,000. Members also pay monthly dues that range between $109 and $153.50, depending on where they live and how many family members are enrolled. The annual budget pays for 345 full-time-equivalent employees.