If someone in industry lied to a reporter as blatently as the Ankeny police chief did (WHO-TV) two weeks before this story, they would be fired. Seriously. But such dishonesty doesn't get you so much as a reprimand in Ankeny. It gets you promoted to be the spokesperson once again since you represent the self-serving, corrupt core character that seems to have infected this particular city's conduct.

This time, completely out of thin air, he fabricated an absurd claim that couldn't be further from the truth -- that the City has invited me to set up my display in a more public venue. Which, if you have a lick of character and given that nothing could be further from the truth, is mind-boggling in its dishonesty. From the one guy in town you should be able to trust. Which means what this really reflects is yet one more attempt to deceive the public by a self-serving, tyrannical bureaucracy that does not give the slightest regard to what is right, true, or good for taxpayers. The people running Ankeny City Hall are now clearly running a dishonest, self-serving disinformation campaign in retribution against an individual citizen using your tax money. Conducting themselves more like corrupt political operatives than public servants while they strategize what they're going to say next, without regard to the truth, public service, and certainly not for the public trust. As I've joked before -- If you liked the Nixon White House, you'll LOVE Ankeny City Hall.

Which means we clearly have bigger problems in Ankeny than whether or not our politicians and bureaucrats are going to let you look at one guy's Christmas light display. What City officials have revealed through this ordeal is an underlying dishonesty and corruption of power that can only be solved by making fundamental changes in our City leaders and administrators with people who better reflect the values we hold dear in Ankeny.

Des Moines Register story (link to their site).

Colorful Christmas lights flap hits Web

August 6, 2007

Dave Sanderson knows just enough about computers to get himself in trouble - and make a little for Ankeny city officials, too.

Sanderson, a 55-year-old father of two who works in advertising, last year rigged his exterior Christmas lights to a computer in his living room. He transformed his house in a quiet neighborhood on Northeast 16th Street from a display worth driving by into a full-blown light-and-sound show for visitors to stop and watch.

City officials said the traffic caused by Sanderson's show posed a traffic hazard. Sanderson said they weren't interested in helping him mitigate the traffic - only in shutting him down. A police officer did ask him to turn off the show on one particularly busy night. Otherwise Sanderson's show went on without interruption.

Seven months have passed since Sanderson took down the lights, but his ongoing quarrel with the city has poured over into the public domain, thanks to a Web site he launched in April.

On it he accuses the city of "arrogant disregard of the public trust" and asks people to sign a petition and call the mayor, the city manager and city clerk.

"I want those guys to get over themselves a little bit," he said.

More specifically, he wants city officials to cooperate in pulling off his show this year as smoothly as possible, Sanderson said in an interview in late July.

Police Chief Gary Mikulec said Sanderson has been invited to set up his sound-and-light show in a public venue that can more easily handle heavy traffic loads, perhaps in the park between City Hall and the fire department.

To date, however, no arrangement has been reached.

"What Mr. Sanderson wants out of this whole thing is he wants to maintain a high level of publicity," Mikulec said.

Sanderson said no such offer was made.

"I would be tickled to hear from them but they have not" made such an offer, he said. "That's just mind-boggling."

Seeing the lights

For approximately five hours a day for six weeks last winter, drivers routinely lined the street waiting their turn to take in one of the shows, which ranged in length from 3 to 9 minutes.

Some 3,000 people came to see the nearly 40,000 lights flash and dance to the beat of music conveniently broadcasted to the FM dial.

Neighbor Janet Clawson said she had no quarrel with the concept of Sanderson's show, but she said the practice of it was an inconvenience and a hazard to neighbors. Ideally viewers would park along the street, but she said they often blocked driveways.

"If people were on their best honor system, it wouldn't have been a big problem," she said. "But people aren't."

Before Sanderson hung the first string of lights he e-mailed the police in hopes of addressing the traffic that he thought could reach dangerously congested levels.

The police agreed that the show posed a potential hazard, especially in the event that an ambulance or firetruck needed to get through. But Sanderson said he got the sense that they were interested only in shutting him down.

"They were treating me more like a criminal coming in to turn himself in, rather than a good citizen," he said.

The light-and-sound show went off with only one official complaint to the police. A viewer had blocked a neighbor's driveway, and an officer asked Sanderson to shut down his display long enough for traffic to dissipate.

But much has happened behind the scenes since that first e-mail - a letter from the city attorney bringing the city's nuisance ordinance to Sanderson's attention, exchanges with the mayor, a presentation before the City Council in which Sanderson asked for the nuisance ordinance to be wiped from the city's books.

Then in April, when Sanderson figured he'd never get the response he thought he deserved, he launched the Web site, www.TheCityThatStoleChristmas.com.

It offers his version of events, complete with a timeline and documentation. But it also features pictures of Dr. Seuss' "The Grinch" and starts with a proclamation: "This is the tale of a local government out of control, a bureaucracy out of touch, and the tyranny of power abused in arrogant disregard of the public trust."

City officials dismiss his Web site as unfounded. It has nonetheless grabbed the attention of several local TV and radio stations.

Julie Cooper, executive director of the Ankeny Chamber of Commerce, said she is working to broker a deal that benefits everyone.

Fine displays of Christmas lights not only showcase the city to visitors but also bring money into the city's stores and restaurants, Cooper said. She envisions combining Sanderson's talents with the community's resources to help create Ankeny's own version of Des Moines' Jolly Holiday Lights.

"We can have that here in Ankeny with the community partners and with Dave Sanderson," she said.