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BID’s bad blood spilling into streets


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Sep 6, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

BID’s bad blood spilling into streets

Council should lead to end downtown infighting if mayor won’t

In the glory days of college, there was a joke among those of us working for the student newspaper covering student government. “Never have so many fought so hard for so little.”

Downtown Waukesha is like that. Actually, not all of downtown Waukesha. Many of the businesses try to avoid the conflicts that have ripped the pavement off of Main Street and left nothing but mud.

On Tuesday, some Business Improvement District Board members tried to clean up the board by asking for the resignation of three of the officers, President Norm Bruce, Vice President Lynn Gaffey and Secretary Kerry McKay. The latter two were charged by Executive Director Meghan Sprager of creating “hostile” working conditions, and in the letter released Tuesday the allegations of misconduct appear to be serious.

They were serious enough that the board actually met behind closed doors. Let’s stop and note the hypocrisy here. When Bruce was with the Pewaukee School District and he was accused of behaving unethically by purchasing books for the district from his own store, Bruce demanded that the hearings regarding his conduct were in the open. That’s because he had the mob on his side.

Then there is Mayor Jeff Scrima, responsible for appointing Bruce and Gaffey and even giving them keys to the city. Scrima has been strangely silent on whether the meeting should have been held in closed session, even though he complained after the fact about the closed-door meeting that dealt with his behavior toward former City Administrator Lori Luther.

But Scrima does have an opinion on whether the Common Council should even discuss the current situation with the BID. He accused Alderman Kathy Cummings of sticking her nose in a place where it doesn’t belong when she and Alderman Eric Payne attempted to place the BID controversy on the Common Council’s agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.

Since the council is responsible for approving the mayor’s appointments to the board, it is definitely the aldermen’s business, and it is the business of the entire city what happens downtown. It is surely Cummings’ business as much as it is Scrima’s, who has taken an inordinate amount of interest in protecting his friends downtown despite having an official residence close to Buchner Park and his parents’ home.

Besides, it’s not like Alderman Roger Patton is going to be effective downtown in solving problems, given questions about his own involvement in controversies downtown.

Some have pointed to the street closings for Waukesha’s Freeman Friday Night Live as the source of the tensions downtown. It’s certainly not all, although it’s understandable that some would get that impression.

After all, when the Downtown Business Association President Roger Igielski doesn’t offer more than a shrug when a downtown business like the Horse Emporium is considering moving because of the street closings, we should wonder why anyone would want to contribute to that organization.

We might even wonder why anyone would offer more than a shrug in return when Mackay complains of losing business at his coffee shop as a result of all the politics. He’s responsible for them when he attempts to whip up a mob on his Facebook page whenever rules for street closures are to be discussed.

These are not measured responses by business leaders who have the best interests of the entire downtown at heart, despite their claims of altruism to the contrary. Let’s not pretend they are martyred saints.

Nobody should want any more businesses downtown to fail or move, regardless of who owns them. It’s in the best interests of all the parties downtown to see the fighting end.

For the first time, and at some cost to herself, some of the bad behavior is being exposed thanks to Sprager. The pressure is building for some changes to be made.

Meanwhile, Scrima and his allies on the BID Board stall for time. Scrima had said that he preferred that the BID take care of their problems themselves. On Tuesday they failed to take any meaningful action. The time for stalling is over.

The mayor has failed in a fundamental way to show real leadership in dealing with the conflicts downtown. Instead, he has perpetuated them for his own ends.

The council is going to have to step up to the problems of downtown. Which alderman is willing to lead?

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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