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'Hostile Work Environment' Leads to BID Executive Director's Resignation

Meghan Sprager, second BID director to quit in two years, said she was treated in a "disgraceful manner" by leaders of the business district.

Accusing leaders of the Waukesha Business Improvement District of "excessive bullying" and treating its staff in a "disgraceful manner," the executive director of the organization has resigned.

Meghan Sprager, who has been on the job for just more than a year, will stay with the BID through the conclusion of Art Fest on Sept. 8.

However, Sprager who has played a key role in the success and growth of the  , said she can no longer tolerate the "hostile work environment."

“Please know that my decision to leave the organization was not made rashly,” said Sprager in her resignation letter, which is attached to this article. “It came after months of inexplicable conflict brought on by the BID’s leadership. The disgraceful manner in which I, as well as others who work for or are a member of the BID, have been treated by the present BID leadership is clear to many individuals.”

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Properties in the downtown area are taxed a special assessment to fund services of the BID, such as marketing, special events and business recruitment and retention. Sprager reports to a board of directors made up primarily of local business leaders.

“It is my observation that the BID is very unhealthy,” Sprager wrote. “It cannot continue operating in its current state. As presently configured, the lack of civil discourse among the BID’s leadership provides a playground for manipulation and excessive bullying.

"This, in my opinion, is why it has been historically difficult for the BID to retain executive directors, and 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," she added.

Sprager has obtained work with a different organization with help of a BID board member.

Sprager began working for the BID in May 2011 and had an annual salary of $65,000 at that time. She previously served as director of development and communications at .

When she was hired, Sprager said she was “passionate” about the downtown area. Sprager replaced Karen Richards, who resigned from the position in fall 2010.

It hasn’t been without its trouble and drama during the past year. The downtown’s leaders have vastly differing opinions, especially surrounding the and Waukesha GuitarTown.

Still, she earned praise Tuesday from at least one BID board member.

“She always has a smile and always approaches problems with an optimistic approach,” said Alderman Roger Patton, who lives in the downtown. “We have been very happy with her work.”

Shawn Reilly August 22, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Becky (no last name) asks "And Shawn, how have you specifically made downtown better?" I guess you are saying that I know best. I own a small business and real estate in downtown Waukesha. I remodeled the building and received an award from the City and the BID. I am presently on the BID Executive Committee. i was the Past President of the BID and was a BID Director for 3 plus years.. I live in downtown Waukesha. My business has contributed monetarily to many downtown events. I have contributed my time to the Farmer's Market, downtown cleanup, the Bike Race, the Christmas Parade, Guitar Town and other events. Since you are asking; Becky, how have you made downtown better? Your answer should include your full name if you want to make it worthwhile.
Jan Getz August 22, 2012 at 05:14 PM
The entire BID staff should be scrapped. There are still people in Waukesha with integrity and the desire to serve in a respectful manner. Let's get this done!
Bill August 22, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Yes, if the outgoing BID director had integrity she would not be make false allegations against the downtown small business owners. She simply has not backed up her allegations with any facts.  Also if the outgoing BID ditector was respectful she would not speak poorly about the place she worked, especially since she already has another job lined up. How will her future employer feel about this backstabbing behavior? It's simply not professional.
Sarah Millard (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 06:09 PM
BID Board Member Lynn Gaffey did not write this comment. Just a reminder that Patch's terms of use are to not deceive people. There are a lot of people commenting on this story that could lead others to believe that members of the BID board are leaving these comments. Respectfully asking people to stop doing this before I have to start deleting comments.
Chris B August 22, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Does the BID Board or Committee get tax dollars from the city's budget??? If that is the case, aren't they subject to open records requests and posting meeting notes? As a resident of the citizen of Waukesha, I am concerned that there are allegations of a potential hostile work enviroment. If the city does provide tax dollars, then wouldnt' that potentially put the city at increased risk, especially if those allegations are true?
Sarah Millard (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Chris - the BID does receive tax money - it is subject to open records requests and open meetings. The taxes it collects are a special assessment in the downtown district paid for by those properties that are located within the district.
Victoria Hekkers August 22, 2012 at 06:43 PM
It is clear Bill that you are not Bill..No integrity..false allegations, not respectful or professional..backstabbing behavior. I have no doubt who Bill really is. The description fits to a tee.
Joan Skimmons August 22, 2012 at 06:55 PM
I am a business owner and I am sorry to see Megan leave. She was great to work with. The downtown has had very positive growth and there are many to thank for it. The BID is just one part of the team that has moved the city forward. It is a shame that the disbutes continue and that the BID director has been in the line of fire. I will miss Megan.
Robin August 22, 2012 at 07:06 PM
"Chris B" you should run for alderman.
Johnny Paycheck August 22, 2012 at 08:38 PM
So she quit because her boss was giving her a hard time? Big deal... Not everyone is going to get along with their boss or bosses. There are personality conflicts that come into play all the time in the workforce. Only in a government job like does does anyone seem to think they have all these rights that nobody else has in an "employment at will" state.
Annie Nominous August 22, 2012 at 08:39 PM
This commenting thread is crazy...makes my head spin. This comment was not actually written by this person and that comment was uncalled for, etc., etc...what is going on here? Small town politics turned ugly. At least Sarah Millard is giving all of you unhappy people a chance to vent from behind your computer screens, which I give her credit for.
Annie Nominous August 22, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I wish all of you Waukesha people would have been this vocal about the murder of the gas station attendant last May, an innocent hard-working father and husband, as you are obviously so angry about this story. A little perspective here, people! R.I.P. Mr. Rana.
Dani Sutliff August 22, 2012 at 10:16 PM
I am, on both a professional and personal level, deeply saddened by BID Executive Director Meghan Sprager’s resignation. I am especially saddened that Meghan’s resignation comes as the result of what she identifies as months of inexplicable conflict and an insurmountable lack of civil discourse among the current BID leadership. Meghan’s enthusiasm and optimistic approach towards the success and viability of the downtown business district was evident to many of us who worked closely with her, whether collectively or individually. She displayed both integrity and fairness in her interactions with stakeholders and business owners - especially during times of conflict and controversy – a characteristic I very much appreciated and respected. As a business owner in the downtown, I know I am not alone in feeling downtown Waukesha is losing both a valuable asset and ally with Meghan’s resignation and her commitment and dedication to the downtown business district will be deeply missed.
Christine VanderBloemen August 22, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Excuse me. So you are saying that the staff of the BID are not people of integrity? Obviously you do not know any of them or have never met any of them. Shame on you for making such a comment about people you obviously do not know.
Christine VanderBloemen August 22, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Bill, obviously you did not read Meghan's resignation letter. She does not want to name names in order to protect the businesses of the people who have acted unprofessionally. She never said all businesses or business owners. She also praised the downtown. You are completely misinformed.
Christine VanderBloemen August 22, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Another person who has not the slightest idea of what it is like being the executive director of the BID. You do not have just one boss...you have all of the members of the BID board of directors, the business owners, the property owners and the city council and mayor to contend with. I think she held up quite well under all of the intimidation. Maybe you would like to run for executive director. Then you could get a first hand experience.
Johnny Paycheck August 22, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Perhaps she just didn't click with her managers? I have worked for and with some freaky, weird and mean people myself, and quit because of it. It just wasn't "news". Not that I wish it had been-- since it can be very difficult to get a new job when you've publicly said bad things about your old one...
Chris B August 22, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Aren't there like 12 to 14 people on the BID Borad? Why so many???
Sarah Millard (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Chris B, why do you have a problem with the number of people on the board? They are all volunteers.
Sarah Millard (Editor) August 22, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Johnny Paycheck, it's news when a top public employee resigns - especially in a business district that has a historic problem with retaining executive directors. Any document produced by a city employee is subject to open records request. So of course the resignation letter is going to be public. Is there a way the city can get to the heart of problems in downtown? The downtown taskforce was supposed to bring people together to talk about the problems. That was apparently unsuccessful. How can we resolve this conflict as a community?
Chris B August 22, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Sara, I never said I had a problem with the number of people, I am just asking why so many? I understand the the BID Board members are appointed by the Mayor for two year terms. Maybe the city has an ordinance that says how many people need to be on this board? There are obviously some issues with this board that need to be addressed. Hoepfully the Mayor and Common Council can address those issues.
Scott L August 23, 2012 at 12:17 AM
I have lived in Waukesha my entire life and I can honestly say that I have not seen this city so active and popular as it has been for the past couple of years. No matter what many people think, Waukesha is a great city. From the comments in this thread it is obvious that Meghan Sprager (and many others too) have played a very important role in the development of our Historic Downtown. Thank you to everyone who deserves praise ;-) However, I am truly saddened that Meghan, or anyone for that matter, is forced to quit a job that they have a passion for. Like the commenter above noted, it's easy for anyone to sit behind their PC, laptop or tablet and criticize or bash people publicly here on Patch. Those individuals should be ashamed of themselves. I am a proponent of the truth that any situation, no matter how bad it may appear, will work itself out in time. People are people, and varying personalities will eventually find their way through the fog... As a final note, I would challenge anyone who thinks that they could do better than Meghan Sprager or any others who sacrifice many hard hours to make Waukesha what it has become, to step up in the volunteer line and give it a shot. Which begs the question: What do you do for the benefit of the city of Waukesha?
the 'sha guy August 23, 2012 at 03:06 AM
I understand Meghan not wanting to name names. However, by not naming people she is essentially making everyone on the board appear guilty. If I were a BID board member and had a good working relationship with Meghan and the staff, I would be furious. Furious that community members may think that I was the problem. If she makes these claims about a hostile work environment, it is very irresponsible to not let people know what the problems were and who was causing them. To let the community just assume and circulate rumors about who the bullies were does even more harm and a greater disservice to the city and BID. I think at minimum a meeting with the Mayor is in order before she leaves so he is fully aware of who is causing problems on BID and arrangements can be made for them to step down or not be reappointed.
brian August 23, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Slander: false and malicious statement or report about someone. Since Meghan is refusing to provide concrete evidence regarding her comments, all we are left with is her committing slander: a false and malicious statement or report about the BID. Can't people get sued for slander?
Daniel Chadwick August 23, 2012 at 11:37 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
Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Daniel that was a great article and truly explains bullying in the workforce. Seems like this day and age that more people are falling into this predicament. The attitude in corporate settings is to stay silent or else. When the middle class continues to be squeezed we are left with no voice in order to earn a paycheck to support our families. In the end here the residents need to speak up and get these pompous BID individuals that are the bullies off this board once and for all. Here we loose a hard working and committed young woman with a zest to improve Waukesha and willing to work the extra hours and go way above and beyond! It is fairly evident that the perpetrators here have an agenda and it is not what is best for Waukesha. Also for the record I have no connections with the BID or this young woman in any way. I am just a concerned lifetime citizen of Waukesha as well as a family member of a long time 30+ years Waukesha business owner.
Patty August 23, 2012 at 01:03 PM
The important qualifier for slander is "false".
Paul Paikowski August 23, 2012 at 03:56 PM
People get brought together, some agree, some disagree. There are winners and losers. When the short end doesn't accept defeat and Join the winning side, you have perpetual conflict. SO it goes in the downtown.
stephanie August 23, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Anyone can claim hostility or bullying, however without any specific examples of names or situations, all we are left with is baseless rumor and innuendo. Meghan has provided no specific examples, and therefore has discredited the entire BID and herself.
Jim Hahn, CFRE August 24, 2012 at 08:05 AM
Meghan does NOT need to name names in a public forum -- which is just gossip. What gives weight to her concerns is the respect she garnered as a professional and committed employee. She has made the BID board aware of her concerns (which is a matter of public record) -- it is THEIR job to conduct an investigation, preferably by securing an objective third-party to interview parties and report on findings. What THEN needs to be reported to the public is ONLY whether or not her concerns were found to have merit and WHAT specific steps are being taken to address them moving forward. The mayor should be involved, but his appointments to the board seem to be a part of the tension. Any solution should also address this conflict in a way which gives the community confidence that the board's membership truly represents the district's interested parties proportionately (building owners, business operators, residents). It may necessitate calling for the mass resignation of the current Board to start with a fresh slate and to put the credibility of the BID above personal ego. Who knows? But attacking Meghan is unproductive and malicious. She is only the latest BID director to depart under a cloud. We should, as many here have done, thank her for her exceptional and professional service and wish her well, as we focus on solutions moving forward.

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