Dear (your name here),
Ankeny Mayor Steve Van Oort asked that I respond to your inquiry regarding Mr. Sanderson’s light display. As I’m sure you can appreciate, there are always two sides to any story and this story is no exception. Mr. Sanderson, as an advertising professional has an interesting sense of humor and apparently is having some fun with all of us because there is no truth to his assertion that the City of Ankeny has banned Christmas lights. They know, as we all do, that I have never asserted a universal "ban." Quite to the contrary, lighting displays including his are prevalent throughout Ankeny during the holiday season including at private residences, businesses, churches and the Mayor’s annual community tree lighting festival; an event attracting hundreds of children and families. These displays portray varying themes including traditional holiday stories, religious messages and favorite children’s characters. We have some wonderful light displays in Ankeny, and areas of town far more congested than mine. So why are they calling mine, and mine alone, a public nuisance?
Mr. Sanderson is upset with the City because during the course of his six week display this past season he was asked to temporarily suspend the display one evening for about 20 minutes to relieve traffic congestion in the neighborhood; simply stated: of approximately 180 hours of operation, the light show was temporarily suspended for two hours. Simply stated, my display ran approximately 180 hours, attracted more than 3,000 visitors, and yet only generated ONE complaint -- about an ill-mannered visitor blocking a drive not "congestion" as they dishonestly state here. Did the police tell the visitor to move as you would expect? No. Their standing orders didn't give them the option. They were to shut me, which they did. Which, in turn, generated TWO more complaints directed at the City from people waiting in line who were angry at the City's unfair and heavy-handed mishandling of this situation.
This request was prompted by a complaint from a resident in the neighborhood unable to access their home. A visitor was blocking their drive and didn't move.This action was consistent with an agreed upon arrangement made with Mr. Sanderson in the fall of 2006 and prior to his light display going live. This, of course, is absurd. Why would I object to the original certified letter and then agree to a plan that was far more hostile and unfair?
If you ask a follow-up question challenging the transparent silliness of this assertion you will get a blatentlly deceptive and dishonest follow-up note quoting my item #3 (what happened to #1, #2, and #2A?) from the incremental traffic plan I proposed in this e-mail which I sent prior to our meeting of November 9th. Here is the actual document I took to that meeting which they dismissed altogether.
In working with Mr. Sanderson before and during the event, Note in "Christmas Display Chronology" which they outline below, that the ONLY cooperative contact the City EVER initiated with me was the November 17 e-mail from Jim Spradling. Every other effort towards cooperative interaction was initiated by me.
City assistance was provided in the form of address lists to contact neighbors about the display, True enough. As seen in my e-mail and on my notes prepared for our one friendly meeting on November 9, I asked if there was an easy resource for addresses so I could send a letter to neighbors since the time I had originally reserved to go door to door had now been spent trying to defend myself against the City and their certified letter. directional signage This really did help and solved some real problems. kudos, and my genuine thanks, to the Ankeny Street Department. and directions to callers to City Hall wanting to view his display. In other words, they answered the caller's question rather than hang up on them. Additionally, at Mr. Sanderson’s request, an invitation to a special viewing was extended to all City staff. Meaning, again, that the fact they accepted and passed on my invitation honoring our fine police officers, firefighters, and other City workers who make this town actualy function, is offered to you as proof of just how generous and benevolent the administration of the City has been towards me.
There is no ban nor any intention to ban his or any other holiday light displays in the City of Ankeny. However, it is the City’s obligation to serve the greater public, protect the infringement upon the rights of others and provide emergency services that may from time to time require us to ask for his cooperation in alleviating emergency access issues.
On a personal note; I grew up in Ankeny and have enjoyed the many benefits of living here, so it is with great dismay that I read of your disappointment and apparent distrust of government. It is not the City’s intent to disappoint any of our residents and we work very hard to avoid such circumstances.
If you are interested in learning more, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515.965.6414. I would be happy to discuss this with you over the telephone or in person.
bringing it all together
Dave Sanderson – Christmas Display Chronology
August 24, 2006 – Mr. Sanderson (222 NE 16th Street) sends e-mail to Police Department advising them of his intention to have a lighting and audio display over the holiday season.
August 24, 2006 – Chief Mikulec responds to Mr. Sanderson’s e-mail with a letter cautioning him on the potential traffic and safety issues the display could create and offers to meet with him to discuss the project.
September 6, 2006 - Meeting between Mr. Sanderson and Chief Mikulec and LT. John Evers takes place at police station. Mr. Sanderson’s plan is discussed at length, including the impact on the neighbors, the program’s content, duration and schedule, and City’s role and liability.
September 22, 2006 – Mr. Sanderson sends e-mail to Public Relations Officer Deb Dyar asking for city contact information regarding street signage and related matters. Dyar sent an e-mail response on September 25, 2006.
October 30, 2006 – Following an earlier discussion with and request from Chief Mikulec, City Attorney Amy Beatty sends by certified mail a letter to Mr. Sanderson advising him that if the display creates traffic congestion sufficient to obstruct the streets and sidewalks, then the City “will declare the holiday display a nuisance and proceed to abate it accordance with the Ankeny Municipal Code”.
November 8, 2006 – Following a telephone conversation with Mr. Sanderson in which he describes the letter from the city attorney as abusive and charges that the City is preventing him from having a Christmas display, Deb Dyar receives an e-mail from Mr. Sanderson discussing the display and an impending meeting with Dyar and Assistant City Manager Jim Spradling.
November 9, 2006 – Dyar responds to Mr. Sanderson’s previous e-mail and confirms the meeting that afternoon.
November 9, 2006 – Spradling and Dyar meet with Mr. Sanderson to strategize about conducting the display so the event can take place without inconveniencing neighbors and minimizing traffic problems and safety risks. Among other things the letter from the attorney was discussed. There was general agreement that the City would work with Mr. Sanderson to address complaints and traffic issues, (That's what they SAID. But here's what they DID.) but it was reiterated the City would ask him, if deemed necessary, to shut down the display for periods of time required to alleviate traffic/safety problems. That conversation simply didn't happen. The City was trying to placate me, not irritate me. Nor did it need to take place as you can easily judge by the cooperative spirit of the notes I took to that meeting proposing an incremental plan to deal with increasing levels of traffic, ending -- after trying everything else and still being overwhelmed -- where I said I'd shut down. Mr. Sanderson agreed to contact the neighborhood about the display and to address concerns when needed.They're not seriously trying to take credit for my plan to talk to neighbors -- the best neighbors anywhere -- and do whatever I could to alleviate unforeseen problems, are they? He also asked that the City give him the opportunity to take care of problems before being temporarily shut down. There was NO discussion about shutting me down at this meeting. He also asked for the City to provide traffic control, both through signage and manually. Yet another blatently deceptive statement by a dishonest city. Note in my e-mail of Nov. 8 that I specifically mentioned that I was NOT asking for manual control. He was told only limited signage to direct traffic from entering an adjoining cul-de-sac would likely be provided. He indicated the event would run from approximately November 27, 2006 up to New Years Day. The meeting ends with the event proceeding.
November 10, 2006 – Spradling receives an e-mail form Mr. Sanderson thanking him for the face to face meeting and discussing various concerns and how he intends to address them. He also suggests signage and wording to direct traffic. Dyar receives an email thanking her for a mailing list of his neighbors.
November 10, 2006 – Chief Mikulec receives e-mail from Mr. Sanderson apologizing for blaming him for the letter he received from the city attorney.
November 14, 2006 – Spradling and Dyar receive a copy of the letter Sanderson is sending to his neighbors outlining plans for the light show and an appeal that if concerns arise, they contact him first.
November 17, 2006 – Following a meeting with Chief Mikulec and Public Works Director Paul Moritz and a conversation with Fire Chief Burns, Spradling sends an e-mail to Mr. Sanderson indicating what signs (and the location thereof) the City will provide.
November 17, 2006 – Mr. Sanderson responds via e-mail suggesting additional signage that he would pay the City to make and install.
November 20, 2006 – Spradling responds to Mr. Sanderson that the City does not make signs for private parties even at their expense. Mr. Sanderson was advised that he could place directional signs on private property with the owner’s permission to provide additional direction to his event. He was also advised of the City’s concern for public safety. Mr. Sanderson replied by e-mail he would monitor the event as needed.
November 27, 2006 – Signs were erected by City personnel per plan to direct traffic away from cul-de-sac.
November 28, 2006 – Lighting/audio display commences.
November 28, 2006 – Dyar receives an e-mail from Mr. Sanderson asking that his email be distributed to city employees announcing a ‘thank you for your service day.”
December 2, 2006 – Dyar receives an e-mail from Mr. Sanderson asking whether city employees have been notified of the display and advising of timing changes to the light display. Dyar advised him that employees were aware of the display and forwarded the e-mail to Spradling and Mikulec.
December 22, 2006 – Police receive a complaint from a neighbor unable to get in their driveway because of traffic congestion. Police attempt to contact Mr. Sanderson as previously arranged. Sanderson’s phone was busy, so a police officer went to Sanderson’s door and requested he temporarily suspend the light show. The show was suspended for approximately 20 minutes.
January 1, 2007 – Spradling receives an e-mail from Mr. Sanderson asking for feedback.
January 3, 2007 – Spradling replies to Mr. Sanderson’s request for feedback, indicating there were no complaints filed with the City Manager’s Office, but had not yet spoken with the Police or other staff.
January 5, 2007 – City staff receive copy of Sanderson letter sent to his neighbors recapping the event.
February 19, 2007 – Mr. Sanderson, during the Citizen Open Forum of the February 19th Council meeting, presents to the City Council a request to repeal or revise a portion of the nuisance ordinance as may pertain to holiday displays, to adopt a parking ban on a portion of NE 16th Street during December from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and to not criminalize the actions of those participating in the lighting display.
March 9, 2007 – Dyar receives a telephone call from Mr. Sanderson alerting her that a KCCI reporter was interested in a story about the city wanting to stop his light display next year.I wouldn't address something this minor other than I don't want any media people left with the wrong idea. I did not suggest that anybody was considering a story about my display. But I did tell Deb that I had received a call from a media outlet about a rumor that Ankeny was going to ban large displays, and that I had nothing to do with it if they received a call as well. Understand that I was still trying to resolve this problem on a friendly basis and was waiting for an answer to my Feb. 19 council request that I didn't want compromised by the false assumption I had called the media in.
March 10, 2007 – Dyar received an e-mail from Mr. Sanderson providing further elaboration to telephone conversation of March 9. I suggested that maybe the rumor came from the City's lobbyist, as she had been recently approached by Legislators telling the City to fix this problem and start being fair with me because cities should not treat citizens like this and we don't consider Christmas lights to be a public nuisance in Iowa.
March 20, 2007 – Sanderson purchases domain name thecitythatstolechristmas.com
April 10, 2007 – Sanderson sends letter to city council inquiring to the status of his request before council February 19.
April 17, 2007 – Letter from mayor sent to Mr. Sanderson denying his request for an ordinance change.
April 23, 2007 – Pam DeMouth received an e-mail from Mr. Sanderson requesting a copy of Ordinance 1579. DeMouth responded same day.
April 25, 2007 – Contacted owner of planetchristmas.com and requested permission to post on the forum site. Approved and posted. Most people on PlanetChristmas post under their real name, including me. Deb posted using a fake name. Her post was immediately removed as a violation of PlanetChristmas rules.
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