Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Sprager ends her BID

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Aug 23, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:6A

Sprager ends her BID

Resignation not a surprise given environment

    It’s not exactly shocking news that Meghan Sprager, the executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, has decided to resign. Downtown Waukesha has become a snake pit of competing interests mostly centered on Main Street to the detriment of the sanity of anyone trying to make it a better place. For some of the downtown players, Sprager is an inconvenient obstacle.
    What is shocking is the sincerity and the revelatory nature of the resignation letter. In it, Sprager writes, “… it is important for you to know that several months ago the city attorney’s office initiated a conversation with me whereby I was encouraged to explore my options in regards to a hostile work environment.”
    It’s not often that a city attorney suggests an employee of a city government body consider “options” regarding a hostile work environment. But downtown is special in a hostile, non-productive kind of way.
    We know that Sprager’s brief time as executive director hasn’t been easy. Sprager once reported being actually threatened, resulting in a meeting between her, BID President Norm Bruce, and Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima.
    Sprager was actually responsive to the idea of open government, unlike those around her. After responding to a request from the media (me) she received an angry letter from Mayor Jeff Scrima telling her that she did not need to be so cooperative. Then Sprager found herself in the middle of an open records dispute involving BID President Norm Bruce and me when she offered to scan printouts of copies of electronic records to fulfill an open records request.
    It was later learned that Bruce attempted to overcharge me for fulfilling that open records request when the invoice showed up with higher pricing for copies.
    There have been tensions between Sprager and Bruce, including over involvement of the BID in the GuitarTown project. How much Bruce is contributing to the alleged hostile work environment may soon be revealed. A couple of BID Board members plan to call a special meeting to openly discuss Sprager’s letter of resignation and the reasons behind it.
    Some good might come out of the discussion. For too long, too many people have complained about the poisonous atmosphere of downtown but have not stepped forward with any evidence of the causes.
    But I’m not hopeful for any changes as a result of the meeting.
    What is lacking is responsible leadership at the top. Mayor Jeff Scrima not only tolerates the infighting downtown, he actively joins in. His downtown task force was as much about score settling with past enemies as it was settling issues. Instead of encouraging openness, Scrima actually corrodes the ethics of governance by encouraging others not to cooperate with the media.
    Is it any wonder, then, that some of the downtown business leaders choose to follow his example and engage in the same behaviors?
    A responsible mayor would have at least attempted to reconcile opposing interests in downtown. Compromise on every issue is not always possible, but real leadership could at least forge a consensus on some of the major issues downtown.
    So little over a year after Sprager was hired, the BID Board will have to search for an executive director. The next executive director will be stepping into an untenable political situation surrounded by supposed adults that don’t work and play well with others. Waukesha will be lucky if the executive director position isn’t vacant as long as the city administrator position has been.
    Perhaps at the next BID meeting I should pass out my brother-in-law’s business cards. He’s a psychologist and a life coach. He’s comfortable dealing with dysfunctional people.

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