Mike O’Brien, manager for 30 years of the Key Biscayne Beach Club, stunned the membership’s annual meeting Wednesday evening by announcing his resignation and calling the past year the worst in all the years he had worked for the club.
Clearly fed-up, O’Brien pointed to hostility and infighting among the club’s board members as the reason for his decision. Among the 40 members who attended the session, one in attendance bluntly told the board that the club was losing perhaps its most important asset.
The club is struggling in the face of declining membership. Only 411 Key Biscayne residents have paid dues this year. The board estimates that about 150 other members have not yet paid for 2019, but that figure is uncertain.
Record-keeping has been difficult because of construction of new homes on the island. Often memberships are not conveyed with ongoing property sales in the single-family residence part of the island.
Robert Luttgen, a member who attended the meeting, said that out of five mansion-style homes built near his house, he was aware that only one property retained its Beach Club member status.
O’Brien said he would stay on for four to six weeks to help with the transition to new management. A contentious issue for the board has been O’Brien’ salary of $103,000 a year.
“You’ll have $50,000 to help with the finances,” O’Brien said, referring to half his salary this year that he is giving up by resigning.
Serious dissension remains inside the board. Before the annual meeting began, the board held an hour-long separate gathering to discuss the many challenges before the club and to install a new board and name officiers.
President Donna Rice agreed to stay on in her current position. Mark Fried was named vice president. Newly elected board member Dwight Hewitt will take over from Fried as secretary. Christine Biggers, a new board member, agreed to serve as treasurer.
After naming the officers, Ron Erbel, an incumbent board member, called into question the appointments, complaining that the election had been deeply flawed and in violation of the bylaws and other governing club documents.
“We may have a good group,” Erbel said of the new board. “But what happened is still wrong.
Fried told Erbel to count the ballots again if he wished.
We don’t need a recount,” said Erbel. “We need a revote.”
Responding Hewitt told Erbel: “You’re right, no one is arguing that.” But he said it was time to move on and begin to find solutions to the club’s serious issues.
“We need to do something,” Biggers said.
On Good Friday, Rice and Fried overrode a majority vote of the old board, which seeking to resolve irregularities in the election before ratifying a new board. Rice and Fried ordered the ballot box, which had been sealed with two locks -- one in Erbel’s hands and the other in Rice’s -- to be broken into with bolt cutters. The club bylaws say a majority of the board must be present to verify the vote, but only Rice and Fried attended.