Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

New day for BID


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Sep 20, 2012; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

New day for BID
Board has chance to restart almost from scratch

Sometimes change comes swiftly. The announced resignations by several of the remaining Waukesha Business Improvement District Board members give downtown Waukesha a chance to breathe again. The new members, whoever they are, will have a huge challenge restoring the credibility of the organization in the wake of the recent controversies.

It was interesting to watch a number of the speakers before Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting try to tie the continued problems with the BID to Waukesha’s Freeman Friday Night Live and the street closings. While the street closings probably added to the tensions, the complaints by former Executive Director Meghan Sprager clearly show that there were other issues involved. That her public complaints soon had echoes among other business and property owners downtown only added to the credibility of Sprager’s complaints.

Alderman Duane Paulson promised Tuesday night to carefully scrutinize Mayor Jeff Scrima’s appointments. That’s a promising start to the process. The Common Council should take a very active role in helping the BID become a positive force in the downtown area. The council should continue to ignore the mayor’s assertion that what happens downtown isn’t their business.

Speaking of the mayor, let’s not forget his role in all of this mess. Sprager specifically mentioned the mayor in her letter stating that he and now-former BID President Norm Bruce were trying to use the BID for their own projects.

We don’t need Sprager’s letter to remember a couple of the instances. There was the secret pass-through of funds from Scrima’s New Day Fund through the BID accounts to the Guitar-Town project. There was the planned rebranding of the city with the Gibson Guitar-approved logo, complete with new signage. The latter led to Scrima ridiculously denying any such plans when asked about it by Alderman Kathleen Cummings.

We have also learned from Sprager that the proposed expansion of the Farmers Market was to include Main Street. Apparently some people have been buying the new urbanism fantasies about turning busy streets into pedestrian malls. We might as well put the gazebo back in the Five Points.

Then Scrima led by example by telling Sprager, the GuitarTown Steering Committee and others not to cooperate with media inquiries. BID President Norm Bruce even went a step further and tried overcharging for an open records request.

Yet when matters got so out of hand that businesses downtown were begging the Common Council to get involved, the mayor said it was not the business of the council. Scrima also said that the BID members will fix the issue themselves. The mass resignations should put an end to any thought that Scrima learned anything at the résumé-padding Harvard business seminar he attended earlier this year at taxpayer expense.

It’s too bad the mayor is not capable of recognizing that he was part of the problem downtown and not part of the solution. Instead of working to bring the different factions together, the mayor played on the divisions for his own ends. He even attempted to engage in some score-settling of his own with his special downtown task force that solved nothing.

The next BID Board must have a commitment to honest and open discussion. The new board members must have the understanding that the most important issue confronting the BID is restoring trust.

If I could make one small suggestion, there should be as few appointments from Main Street as possible, as so many of the controversies in recent years have centered on those businesses. The BID needs board members that can see the downtown in its entirety and realize that the decisions that affect the downtown affect the whole community.

The BID can play an important role downtown. There is so much good an organization like the BID can do, from encouraging property development to graffiti abatement to acting as another voice for the issues confronting downtown. All it needs is the right leadership, the right staff, and a constructive working environment.

That’s not too much for the property owners downtown that fund the BID to ask.

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