Eleven members of the 13-member Waukesha Business Improvement District Board of Directors have stepped down from their leadership roles as accusations of bullying, harassment and ineffective communication styles came from its executive director, who left her position earlier this month.
The only board members remaining are Bill Huelsman and Natalie Walters, said Mayor Jeff Scrima.
As a result of the resignations, a move by Alderman Eric Payne and Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings to replace the entire BID board was removed from the agenda of Tuesday's Common Council meeting.
Dozens of downtown stakeholders spoke at the beginning of that meeting — with some urging the council to replace the BID leadership and others vehemently denyings accusations of bullying.
An emotional and tearful Jim Taylor took the microphone during Tuesday’s night Common Council meeting as he resigned from the BID board.
Taylor, owner of People’s Park, said he is glad he joined the board. But with the continued bickering and verbal attacks surrounding the BID board, he said it was time to step down.
“I feel terrible for the untruths that are being spoken about Norm (Bruce) and Lynn (Gaffey) and Kerry (Mackay) and Roger (Igielski),” Taylor said.
The controversy stems from a resignation that letter that former Executive Director Meghan Sprager submitted in August that cited hostile working conditions from BID board members as the reason for her departure. A second document from Sprager accused Bruce of having poor communication and leadership styles, and Gaffey of harassing behavior.
Check out Patch's complete coverage of the BID controversy
Spager also attended Tuesday's council meeting and was visibly emotional and upset as board members accused her of being untruthful.
Igielski also resigned Tuesday night, citing ceaseless attacks while he’s trying to help promote the downtown and run his business Allo! Chocolat.
He said he has seen the same people who want to replace the BID board oppose homeless shelter, baseball in Frame Park, sidewalk dining and Freeman Friday Night Live street closures. The opponents and aldermen who want to remove the BID board members “seem bent on trying to punish those of us who are trying to make a difference in the downtown,” Igielski said.
Gaffey, owner of Almont Gallery, also stepped down from her role as vice president of the board.
“I am being personally attacked with allegations that are entirely false,” Gaffey said.
Board member and local attorney Jess Martinez has also resigned from the board. "The allegations against my friends are totally untrue," he said.
Bruce said he was “withdrawing from the negativity” to focus on positive efforts in the downtown.
Mackay said he and board member Ron Loestetter are removing themselves from the board.
“I can’t stay in an organization where this constant challenge is in front of us. … It never seems to end,” Mackay said.
Properties in the downtown area are taxed a special assessment to fund BID services, such as marketing, special events and business recruitment and retention. Sprager reported to a board of directors made up primarily of local business leaders.
After Spager made her allegations, some downtown business owners urged the council to help fix the problems.
Bruce and Gaffey survived votes of no-confidence after a nine-page document from Sprager outlined what she felt were hostile working conditions.
After the majority of the BID board supported Gaffey and Bruce, board members Christine VanderBloemen and Jeff Barta stepped down from their positions.
Also resigning was BID employee John Ward, who served as interim executive director between fall of 2010 and spring of 2011.
Moving Forward from a ‘Deep Divide’
Alderman Paul Ybarra, a past vice president of the Waukesha Business Improvement District, said there’s “a deep divide” in the downtown area, with people “speaking for and against change.”
“I know that both sides want what is best for Waukesha. … With all these resignations, the mayor will be starting fresh with a new slate of board members,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra called for the reinstatement of Sprager and Ward as BID employees to continue the operations of the BID.
“Both are dedicated employees who care. … I am confident that these fences can be mended, maybe slowly, but I am confident these fences can be mended,” Ybarra said.
Alderman Duane Paulson praised the board members who stepped down amid the controversy, which gives the BID a “fresh start.”
“They should be commended for that,” Paulson said.
The downtown is on the “upswing,” said Alderman Steve Johnson.
“It is due to the hard work of several of the people who spoke tonight,” Johnson said. “I just hope we can learn something from what has gone on in the past year.”