Saturday, July 20th, 2019

The rush to hush


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Mar 15, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

The rush to hush
Keeping secrets doesn’t help GuitarTown project

Nearly every day I get asked, “Why all the need for secrecy surrounding GuitarTown?” I don’t know, I tell them, but I trust that someday all will be revealed, even as I keep digging.

Just last week we had the weird experience of watching Mayor Jeff Scrima refuse to answer Alderman Kathleen Cummings on the subject of the possible “rebranding” of Waukesha. The mayor acted completely incredulous at the idea, and even told the Waukesha Freeman that it must be an idea dreamed up by Cummings.

The rebranding idea is one of the worst-kept secrets in the city. One of the ideas behind the GuitarTown project was that half of the proceeds (if there are any) would go to the Business Improvement District (BID) for the purchase of new banners to “rebrand” the city.

Of course, nobody else knew about this plan. It was a secret.

Eventually BID Executive Director Meghan Sprager did the research on how much the new banners would cost. According to GuitarTown Steering Committee Chairman Rick Congdon, the idea of rebranding was dropped when it became too expensive.

However, as was reported on my website and in the Waukesha Freeman, there are plans in the works for redoing the signs at the gateways to the city. The sign plans (which predate the GuitarTown project) would have artwork similar to the GuitarTown logo approved by Gibson Guitars.

We may end up with the first corporate-approved city entrance signage that didn’t involve selling the naming rights. But hey, it’s a secret. Don’t tell the Common Council.

When I sent an inquiry to Gibson Guitars about the GuitarTown Project, Scrima told Gibson not to talk to me. I’m not sure when a major corporation started taking public relations advice from a small-town mayor, but Gibson agreed to keep the secrets to themselves.

When I started inquiring about GuitarTown to local officials and members of the BID Board, Scrima advised several of them to not cooperate with me. He even chastised the BID executive director for answering some of my questions.

Alderman Andy Reiland even gave Scrima a “10-4” upon reading the email with the order of silence. Reiland’s constituents should know that when Reiland boasted on his campaign website about being a team player, it meant observing Omerta, the code of silence.

GuitarTown is so secret that when I sent over an open records request to Scrima, he wrote to the city attorney asking if he had to turn over all of his emails since he was acting in a private capacity.

Now this is an incredible claim. He has his secretary scheduling conference calls and meetings regarding the Gibson GuitarTown project. The BID is filtering his New Day fund money for the project. He is using BID staff time for the project. He even told Congdon in an email to stop sending GuitarTown email to the mayor’s private email account, preferring his city account instead.

Of course the city attorney told Scrima he had to release all the emails. Scrima eventually did, as did most of the BID Board officers that I asked. Lynn Gaffey of Almont Gallery even invited me to the GuitarTown artist announcement.

Not so BID President Norm Bruce, the owner of Martha Merrell’s bookstore. He is actually attempting to charge me for his time (even though he is a public official) for reproducing public records that the BID executive director offered to scan and send me for free.

Obviously as a matter of principle I won’t reimburse the BID for Bruce’s time. My attorney Michael Maistelman and I are debating the next steps to get those records released to the public.

Perhaps if Bruce releases those public records then we can learn which “Downtown Business Improvement District and community members” told Scrima on Dec. 8 they would be willing to provide more money for the GuitarTown unveiling event in May, as he told Gibson Guitars in an email.

No authorization was ever made by the BID Board and it was the same day Bruce was elected BID president. Bruce has denied publicly that he even knew about the GuitarTown project at that time, but then Bruce didn’t tell anyone about the $15,000 that was funneled from the New Day Fund through the BID to the GuitarTown vendor.

In response to a question about the email, Scrima told The Freeman that he talked to BID Board members prior to Dec. 8.

He won’t say which ones.

It’s a secret.

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


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