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'Awful' atmosphere led to Sprager's resignation at Waukesha BID

Some BID Board members surprised by departure, others not

Aug. 29, 2012

Meghan Sprager had enough. She wasn't going to back down anymore.

Three days after sending out her resignation letter that claimed a hostile working environment, excessive bullying and threats against her, Sprager summed up her 16 months as the Waukesha Business Improvement District's executive director.

"It's been awful," Sprager said. "I'm just very fed up with everything here."

She said she had been treated in a "disgraced manner" and the lack of civil discourse within the BID's leadership provides "a playground for manipulation."

It appeared she would get the chance to air her grievances to the full board at 7:30 a.m. Thursday at The Rotunda, 235 W. Broadway. But as of Tuesday, there had not been any agenda posted and in an email to Waukesha NOW, Sprager said she still had not heard whether there will be a meeting.

Many Board members have asked that the meeting be open.

Sprager, who is stepping down from her position Sept. 8, said it was so bad that regardless of whether she had a job (she is leaving for a nonprofit organization outside the area), she was going to step down. And while she just made the announcement public last week, Sprager said she had already made the decision to quit in May due to numerous threats from BID Board members since she was hired in May 2011.

But after her car was keyed last month following a BID Board member asking where she parks her car, Sprager said that "was the icing on the cake." Sprager did not file a police report or give names, so it wouldn't ruin their businesses reputation.

That part does frustrate Roger Igielski, past president of the BID and a current board member.

"That leaves suspicions that all of us are guilty," Igielski said. "That bothers me and casts a light on all of us."

Board members react

While some BID Board members were surprised by the words Sprager chose and her decision to leave the BID, others were not.

"I know she was unhappy and was having problems," said Shawn Reilly, past president of the BID. "She's done a very good job and kept the BID going when it was difficult and she'd try to work with all different parties. But she was treated unprofessionally on the BID Board and by others downtown."

"I've definitely seen instances of it," added BID Board member and downtown business owner Jeff Barta.

Roger Patton, the alderman representative on the BID, said he had no idea there were problems.

"We're very sorry that she resigned and we're sorry she's leaving us," Patton said. "She's done a lot of good, expanding our programs (like the Farmers Market). I was surprised. I don't know of any problems. When I worked with her, she always was very cheerful and optimistic."

Sprager cites problems

Sprager's start with BID was positive. Part of that was her working relationship with Reilly, the BID president when Sprager started. However, Sprager said everything went downhill after Mayor Jeff Scrima appointed new leadership on the BID Board, which included president Norm Bruce, who owns Martha Merrell's Books; Lynn Gaffey, vice president and owner of Almont Gallery; Ron Lostetter, treasurer; and Kerry MacKay, secretary and owner of The Steaming Cup.

"Since the change in leadership at the BID, my ability to derive satisfaction in my work was unattainable due to the conflict brought about by the BID's present leadership," Sprager said in her resignation letter. Bruce had no comment on Sprager's resignation and Gaffey had nothing but good things to say about Sprager.

"It's a real shame, because she was extremely qualified, and we were thrilled when she came to work for us," Gaffey said. "I wish her well."

'BID is unhealthy'

The inability of the BID's leadership to control the constant infighting is another reason for her resignation, Sprager said, often putting her in the middle.

"The BID is very unhealthy," Sprager said. "It cannot continue operating in its current state. It has poisoned the organization to such a degree that I no longer feel that there is any possibility for anyone to effectively administer the organization in this capacity."

At the heart of this is the BID Board members fighting on the street closures for Friday Night Live.

"If you disagree with certain people and go against the grain, there's no productivity," Sprager said, leading to "an ugly environment."

Accomplished a lot

Reilly, along with Bruce, Gaffey and Board members Stephen Kassens and Igielski, formed the committee who helped select Sprager, who was formerly the director of development and communications for La Casa de Esperanza in Waukesha and was in public affairs for the Waukesha County Executive's Office for almost 10 years.

As the executive director of a growing downtown she helped increase the amount of vendors for this year's Farmers Market, was a member of the Gibson GuitarTown Steering Committee, helped add many businesses to the downtown BID, was responsible for other downtown promotion events and purchased the downtown welcome signs.

"We've accomplished so much and formed some great partnerships with different businesses," Sprager said. "Coming to work did excite me. I love the organization and I love the downtown, so it's very disappointing my career here is coming to an end."

'Drama gets old'

But she's not sorry she stayed quiet.

"The business community that supports me have asked me to stand up for them and I am," said Sprager. She said there are others who get bullied by the same people.

When asked about the bullying, Igielski said "I thought I got along with her fine. There would be disagreements but that happens between passionate people and there are a lot of strong-minded leaders in downtown. We'd have discussions and state our positions but I never saw any threatening."

Igielski said most downtown business owners have the same goals but did say there is too much inappropriate and condescending behind-the-back remarks.

"The drama just gets old," said Igielski, who added he too has been a subject of nasty comments. "People need to address their problems face-to-face. But when it gets inappropriate, it crosses a line."

Changes in store?

Sprager said in her letter that her fear is that there will be a push to disband the BID. Sprager says a change needs to be made.

"I think the downtown needs to be committed to making that change and understand that you can all come to the table with different viewpoints," said Sprager, who suggested that taking out the executive director position could be one option.

Igielski said the BID should look at all options when looking to hire another director or if it should at all.

Barta said of possible changes that "if I knew (how to fix the problems) I'd be able to do something," before adding "I don't know what the motivation is besides trying to establish a power base by a couple of individuals. It's a shame, but this adverse behavior can no longer be ignored."

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