Business owners in downtown Waukesha told the Common Council Tuesday night they have been bullied, harassed and ridiculed in front of their customers by a Waukesha Business Improvement District board member.
The business owners told alderman their customers have been told by the board member to boycott their businesses and that vendors were told to quit supplying the business owners with materials.
Although the merchants who spoke were careful not to name the individual, board member Lynn Gaffey acknowledged she was the one being targeted — although she strongly denied the allegations made against her.
However, several business owners spoke before the council and gave their accounts of how they were being harassed.
“I was told that I do not dare ask questions and that I am not allowed to have an opinion because I don’t know the history,” said Amy Lauer, who owns Restyle Studio.
Catherine Huelsman, a property owner in downtown, said two of her tenants have been harassed, causing their revenues to be dropped in half.
“That affects them and their families,” Huelsman said. “And that affects me.”
Key Westconsin owner Rita Krivos told the council the board member told her to fire a “scary looking” server.
Soon, Krivos heard the board member was telling others in the downtown about the incident. The board member’s behavior was “inexcusable,” she said, but the restaurant owners thought they were alone.
But they learned they were not, Krivos said
“We realized there is a pattern here, a pattern that must be changed, and the time is now,” Krivos said.
Although it wasn’t on the agenda for the council meeting, aldermen Eric Payne and Kathleen Cummings said they would like to see the entire BID board replaced following the resignation of Meghan Sprager, the executive director who cited hostile working conditions for her departure.
Gaffey, however, later told Patch that the business owners' accusations are “baloney."
Gaffey said she has been involved in the downtown for 15 years and has been dedicated to seeing it succeed. She even directed a customer to Key Westconsin who was seeking the gluten-free restaurant, she said.
“Why would I want to do this kind of stuff to other businesses?” Gaffey asked. “That is crazy.”
The business owners' concerns came the same day as Gaffey and BID board President Norm Bruce were the targets of a "no-confidence" vote at a morning BID meeting. The two received the support of the majority of the board, however.
Kerry Mackay said his business at the The Steaming Cup has dropped 20 percent since a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article identified him as a BID board member that Sprager has had issues with. But beyond that, he called the group of businesses who spoke to the council “a great, well-coordinated action.”
Leaders in the BID are human and make mistakes, he said, but don’t deserve to be targeted. If there is “this much of an outcry,” then an independent professional should investigate and look into the allegations against the board members.
“There is no talk of fixing,” Mackay said. “There is talk of getting rid of people.”