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UPDATED: BID Board Pondering Options After Being Accused of "Excessive Bullying"

Waukesha Business Improvement Development Executive Director Meghan Sprager resigned, claiming she's been treated in a "disgraceful manner." While one board member says she was worried about this from the start, others are surprised by the allegations.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with information from Jeff Barta and Roger Igielski.

board members are calling for a special BID meeting following BID Executive Director Meghan Sprager’s 

The letter alleges the BID board has subjected Sprager to a "hostile work environment" and that BID staff is treated in a "disgraceful manner."

Board members Jeff Barta and Chris VanderBloemen have called the special meeting that they plan to hold at 7:30 a.m. Monday at The Rotunda, 235 W. Broadway.

"While I’m not surprised at her decision I am very disappointed," said Barta in an email calling for the special meeting. "This is a serious matter, I think it important for us as a board to address this issue immediately and decisively. 

"The board has a responsibility to discuss how this happened and how to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again. The circumstances surrounding Meghan’s departure from the BID are unacceptable and require immediate action from the Board."

Barta's email states BID bylaws allow two board members to call special meetings. Earlier Wednesday, the BID board president, Norm Bruce, told Patch  he was looking to call an emergency meeting.

"At this point and time I am kind of just pondering it and figuring out what exactly what it means," said Bruce, who owns  "There are no details. There are statements that are made but there are no names."

Bruce said he plans to share more information with the public following the closed session meeting via a press release.

Patch has left a voicemail at the BID office seeking further clarification from Sprager about her work situation. Her last day is Sept. 8, following the . Mayor Jeff Scrima said the BID board will need to go through a recruitment and hiring process as it has in the past to replace Sprager.

Sprager told the Waukesha Freeman in Wednesday’s newspaper that her car was keyed after a board member asked her where she parks her car. She also told the newspaper she has been threatened by board members and business owners.

"I have always taken great satisfaction in working diligently and faithfully for my prior employers, and I have always been told by my past employers that my work was a great benefit for the organization," Sprager said. " my ability to derive satisfaction in my work was unattainable due to the conflict brought about by the BID's present leadership. I am very excited to be joining an organization that deeply respects their stakeholders and values their workforce talent."

Bruce took over as president in November 2011 after then-President Shawn Reilly was not re-appointed by Scrima.

Board Member: BID Directors 'Shabbily' Treated

Sprager began working for the BID in May 2011 following the fall 2010 resignation from Karen Richards.

It was the past history of BID executive directors being treated "shabbily" that BID Board Member Chris VanderBloemen was concerned about hiring Sprager. She was worried about the way Sprager would be treated.

"I thought she was more than qualified," said VanderBloemen. "I thought, 'Give her the go ahead and hopefully it will work.'"

VanderBloemen said she is "heart broken" by Sprager’s resignation. She’s seen Sprager frequently put in 60- to 70-hour work weeks at the BID.

"She was very good," VanderBloemen said. "She never said a whole lot. She didn’t want to name names because she didn’t want to cause problems."

Unfortunately, VanderBloemen said, the problems lead to Sprager’s resignation.

"It makes me very sad, very, very sad," she said. "I am just upset with the fact that there are people that don’t seem to know how to deal with (issues) as adults."

Reilly in a Patch article commented that Sprager’s  "work ethic and job skills" are "unmatched."

"Meg is and was a tireless worker for the BID," Reilly commented. "She was also an effective champion of the BID."

City Attorney’s Office Initiates Contact

When problems became apparent for Sprager, she said in her resignation letter the city attorney’s office contacted her. In that conversation, she was "was encouraged to explore my options in regards to a hostile work environment."

"I thought about this possibility carefully, but I opted not to pursue action out of care and concern for a large number of committed business and property owners that work day-in and day-out to make the entire downtown thrive," Sprager wrote in her letter. "However, I have concluded that it is in my best interest, both professionally and for my health, to sever ties with the organization."

Roger Igielski, another board member, said he was surprised by Sprager's resignation, especially since they recently had a positive meeting regarding fourth quarter advertising campaigns for the downtown.

"I didn't see it coming," Igielski said. "I didn’t expect it."

Still, he wants the suspect named in the car keying incident because it "sheds dim light" on the downtown and makes all the board members appear guilty.

"If somebody has broken the law, they should be exposed and prosecuted. ... It makes us all look like we have dirty plans," Igielski said.

Board Member Lynn Gaffey, owner of in downtown Waukesha, said Sprager never approached her with concerns about being threatened. Gaffey was on the hiring committee that selected Sprager to be the next executive director in spring 2011.

Gaffey said she was surprised by Sprager's resignation.

“I thought she was a great person to hire,” Gaffey said. “I wish her luck in her new pursuit.”

Mayor Jeff Scrima also said concerns were not brought forward to him. When asked about looking into problems Sprager brought up in her letter, the mayor said he “will be listening to downtown business owners and BID board members and take that into consideration when we have our next round of BID appointments.”

“It would be helpful if more information was presented to determine what is or what is not the cause,” Scrima said. “Clearly the success that we have experienced downtown and the many people that enjoy downtown, it is not dependent upon any one organization or any one person within an organization. It is really the collective of everyone working together to make our downtown vibrant and family friendly and keep the energy going.”

The BID is one organization among many that have lead to the success of downtown Waukesha, Scrima said, which helped Waukesha make the

Sprager’s performance the past year “seems to have been good,” Scrima said.

“We were glad to see that she carried out one of the goals that the BID board established early in the year, which was to expand the She carried an important goal the BID board set early in the year.”

Christine VanderBloemen August 23, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Since the resignation of BID executive director Meghan Sprager concerns ALL BID property owners and business owners, there should be no closed meeting. It should be an open meeting for all interested persons to attend.
Chris B August 23, 2012 at 01:18 AM
That is a great point!!
clearthinker August 23, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Mayor Jeff Scrima is to blame for this situation. He was advised NOT to appoint Lynn Gaffey and Norm Bruce to the BID board but ignored that wise advice. He has the ability to help to heal the situation downtown by NOT reappointing Lynn Gaffey and Norm Bruce to the BID board when their terms expire this November!
Tammy August 23, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Hey "anti" whoever you are, get real! The BID has not accomplished much. The BID does not organize or sponsor Freeman Friday Night Live, the Downtown Business Association does. And the BID does not organize or sponsor the Art Crawls, the West End Artists do. But the BID is the only downtown organization that gets taxpayer money, your money, and what do they have to show for it? Not much! Let's disband the BID, get rid of the drama and save the taxpayers money, and let the private organizations like the Downtown Business Association handle downtown business!
Johnny Paycheck August 23, 2012 at 08:01 AM
This is a sad story turned tragic. Does she not have anyone in her life who could give her better advice than this? People don't like their superiors and quit their jobs all the time. They just don't use their resignation letter to make claims of abuse and air the organizations dirty laundry, which will certainly not be an asset to her in her career going forward. Granted she already had another job before her resignation letter hit the news, but most managers and boards in a position to hire someone will (for good reason) avoid candidates who have made derogatory public statements against any of their previous employers. Certainly they will wonder if she is going to make complaints against them next and prepare themselves for it. Her resignation letter was very unprofessional to say the least. Corporate CEO's leave their jobs all the time due to internal conflicts and there is a reason why you don't see them in the news telling the world how crappy and abusive the company's board is (even though many of them may be). Sure it would make great news and satisfy their desire for revenge, but it offers zero benefit for them and would only result in diminished career opportunities. Better to be remembered for what you did rather than the things you said in your resignation letter. I can't see where this case would be any different. I am sure she will learn a lesson from this (if she hasn't already), but as the saying goes: The price of education keeps going up.
Christine VanderBloemen August 23, 2012 at 10:00 AM
The monies that fund the BID come exclusively from the property owners in the BID district and from fundraisers put on by the BID. The BID takes care of the downtown environment, sponsors the Christmas parade, the Carl Zach bike race and, the Farmer's Market to name a few. They are concerned with the health and well being of the entire downtown, not just the artists or the retailers. They promote development of the downtown.
Christine VanderBloemen August 23, 2012 at 10:07 AM
Meghan Sprager had the courage to do what previous BID executive directors did not. She has chosen to put a stop to the actions of certain people within the BID who care only about their own agendas. I know you are trying to be reasonable, but you have no clue what has transpired int the BID over the years. Bullies don't stop as long as they can continue to bully in secret. Have you ever wondered why the BID district has had so many directors since its inception? Many good people have come and gone. It has to stop.
superdavefive August 23, 2012 at 11:11 AM
If you force an open meeting it is likely they will just quietly meet in private. You will only know what you're allowed to know.
Daniel Chadwick August 23, 2012 at 11:34 AM
There's a really good piece here by Susan Annunzio of Chicago Booth business school on the 'executive bullying effect' - it's not always as overt as seems to be the case here - but that makes it even more important to shine a light on it IMO - good read: http://www.iedp.com/Blog/My-Way_or_the_Highway
Victoria Hekkers August 23, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Good read Daniel and very true.. If you want to force change in an organization, then you do your best to cause havoc and create a hostile work environment so no one stays and everyone is up in arms. In this case, ask yourself who is causing the hostile work environment? Then connect the dots to how that person got the position and how that person keeps the position. You have your answer.
Jim Hahn, CFRE August 23, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I agree with Christine that a closed meeting perpetuates the "behind the scenes" machinations of a group of bullies. SUNSHINE and transparency are what are needed. Make the meeting OPEN to the public - and INCLUDE people coming together to solve problems. Johnny P. - what you say is mostly true, but having a similar personal experience recently locally and choosing the high road has not helped the organization make important changes. So, I respect Meghan's courage in speaking the truth in the interest of getting the problems addressed at the expense of her personal reputation. She is a professional (as was her predecessor, Karen R.), and I am sure her decisions were not made lightly or rashly. Victoria also makes a strong point about the need to trace problems back to a common source as an important means of truly ending them. I'm not sure disbanding the B.I.D. is the right way to go, but some dramatic overhaul does seem in order, rather than just begin another round of interviews.
Ben August 23, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Blah, blah, blah, more BID drama... VanderBloemen, Hekkers and Hahn perpetuate the drama and provide more reasons to REMOVE TAXPAYER FUNDING from this organization!!!
Christine VanderBloemen August 23, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Ben, have you read any of the posts? If so, are you just dumb or what? The BID is funded by a special tax assessment which we pay in addition to our property taxes. The job of the BID is also to raise additional funds to help the district. The BID gets ZERO funds from the West End Artists or the Waukesha Downtown Business Association. All of their events are for their benefit only and not for the benefit of the BID coffers. THAT is why I am so upset about all of this. The BID was formed to benefit the property owners and businesses within the BID district. It is to promote the entire district and do what they can to make things better for the property owners, residents and business people. Unfortunately, the property owners and the residents have been ignored and vilified. I am tired of it. If you want to be a part of the downtown BID district, please call...I have two buildings you could buy!
Victoria Hekkers August 23, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Dear Ben..We are the taxpayers who provide the funding.. No one can remove the funding or change the funding but us..
Christine VanderBloemen August 23, 2012 at 11:44 PM
I apologize to Ben for making such a inappropriate remark to him. It was uncalled for and I am sorry.
clearthinker August 24, 2012 at 05:44 PM
CVB: OK, in the heat of the moment you wrote what you were thinking. It needed to be said! The comments of Ben and Tammy above reflect an ignorance of what the BID is and how it generates its revenues. I would advise future posters to learn the facts before they share their ignorance of them with us.

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