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WARNING: Do NOT try to work with the police preemptively!


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A couple of months ago there was a thread where I was advised too late not to meet with the police ahead of time to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. Basically what happened at the time was that they were pretty hostile, I pointed out that I was just trying to be a good citizen and called them on the fact that it seemed they were going to be looking for ways to shut me down,after which they seemed to be friendlier. But I was apparently mistaken.

Zoom forward two months --Today I received a CERTIFIEDletter froma law firm representing the City. A very hostile and threatening letter citing nuisance codes and making it clear that they intend to prosecute legal action if I gave them so much as a hint of a reason. Given that I went to them and am pretty much a model citizen -- Boy Scout Council VP, college adjunct faculty member,old-time company (ad agency) president, and haven't even had a parking ticket for years -- it was absolutely the most absurd, offensive, outrageous waste of tax money and personal slap in the face I've seen in recent memory.

A lot of towns have lighting contests and authorities with some level of common sense when dealing with upstanding (and media saavy) citizens. So I doubt manyfolks willrun into the kind ofadversarial overkill Ihave encountered. ButI hope thisstory serves as a warning for others here. Worry about being a good citizen and neighbor on your own. Do NOT try to work with the police.

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Eric R wrote:

Dave, can you post the letter?I would like to be prepared for the same problems. Having the codes would be nice.

Via Certified Mail - Return Receipt Requested

Re: Holiday Light Display

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson:

This letter is a follow up (sic) to conversations that Mr. Sanderson has had with Chief Gary Mikulec of the Ankeny Police Department. We understand that you are proposing (I guess they thought I was either asking permission or turning myself in) a holiday light display on your property which is set up to correspond to music which can be picked up through a car radio.

Chief Mikulec has expressed to Mr. Sanderson his concern that this light display will impede the fire and police department's ability to traverse N.E. 16th Street, as well as the adjacent streets because of the potential traffic generated by your light display. In addition, we are concerned that this display will obstruct the surrounding property owners (sic) ability to get back and forth to and enjoy their property.

We recognize your intentions for the holiday light display are well-intentioned. However, we are aware that the display may generate unexpected problems. Please be advised that Ankeny Municipal Code Section 8.08.020 specifically prohibits you from creating or maintaining a nuisance. In relevant part, Ankeny Municipal Code Section 8.08.190 providesthat "any use of property abutting on a public street or sidewalk ... which causes large crowds of people to gather, which obstructs traffic and free use of streets or sidewalks is a nuisance."

Given the potential for traffic congestion and the obstructions of the streets and sidewalks as a result of the large crowds that could be generated by your holiday display, please be advised that, if necessary, Ankeny will declare this holiday display a nuisance and proceed to abate it in accordance with the Ankeny Municipal Code. Please govern yourself accordingly.

Sincerely,

XXXXXX

_______

The letteris not overly hostile in and of itself. But the fact that it was sent at all is as adversarial as you can get. You don't sic the lawyers ona guy who came to you, assured you repeatedly that he would shut down if any of the concerns came to fruition ... and who also happens now to be mad and knows some media guys who love this kind of stuff.

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If I were you, I'd be talking to the Des Moines area media outlets to see if one of them wants to do a story on it.

Of course, it could backfire, and cause you to have more traffic than you could ever want. If it were me I'd make sure they didn't list the address in the story for this reason.

-Tim

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tfischer wrote:

If I were you, I'd be talking to the Des Moines area media outlets to see if one of them wants to do a story on it.

Of course, it could backfire, and cause you to have more traffic than you could ever want. If it were me I'd make sure they didn't list the address in the story for this reason.

Personally, I'd hold off on alerting the media just yet. The letter sounds to me like the city is simply covering their behinds by asserting their right (via the nuisance ordinance) to shut you down if your display causes a problem, just in case you walked away from the previous meeting thinking that the police chief gave you his blessing. As long as your display doesn't get the attention Cason got last year, or one of your neighbors complains, you'll probably be fine. If the city tries to not only shut you down, but charge you with a misdemeanor for causing a nuisance, THEN use the media to your advantage. Put yourself up as the little guy getting picked on by the big, bad government. :devil:

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I am sorry to hear of your troubles this early in the season.

While the term nuisance has many meanings, around here it is most commonly used for weeds exceeding 3 foot in height - hence the local "Weed Cop".

It is sad to hear the term being used for a Christmas display.

Keep us posted and good luck.

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If it was me, whatever my plans were for this year, I would double them. I would do everything I could to be the biggest spectacle that I could be. I would even set up a chair for Santa in the front yard and dress up as Santa and just dare them to come and shut down Santa.

Of course, then my wife would come and tell me to calm down they are just doing their job. How dare she be the voice of reason!

In the end, I would tell my wife that I had calmed down and then quietly compromise and add 50% more lights (but definitely the Santa).

I would also contribute to the Mayor's campaign and if the Sheriff is elected, his too.

Ken

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I am on the same thinking as Tim. I would take it to the papers. Sounds like you live in a smaller town that the police chief is set in his old ways. Does not like change, he might have to go out and do something. Take it to the papers, but remember, the crowds will come. That letter wouldof made memad as hell. Like Ken said- I would then give them a reason to shut me down as it was doubled in size over-night. My way of sticking it to the government. :devil::devil:

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As I read this letter right, if a group of people go out singing Christmas carol, they can charge them with a misdemeanor for causing a and proceed to abate it in accordance with the Ankeny Municipal Code..

If the city tries to not only shut you down by the way they have with this letter, but charge you with a misdemeanor for causing a nuisance, THEN use the media to your advantage,I like to this see go to the media!!!:devil::devil:

Jerry Plak

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Dave,

This is a tereible situation. Being from the other side I can understand them sending the letter. Kind of a cya thing. It sounds as if the Chief you met with mistook your intentions and is expecting the crowd from the Rockefeller Center Tree lighting at your house. I would not worry too much. I would go ahead with the display. But be forewarned, there may be an overzealous code enforcement officer in your town and may be watching for you. Not to worry just yet. If for some reason you find yourself in violation of the law and have received a summons you innocent till proven guilty in a court of law. Now if I was you I would think back to last Christmas and find out where the Holiady gatherings were. Also watch very closely this year when and were crowds have gathered for the Holidays.Try to find out if they required a special permit. Hopefully they did not. This is really good for your cause. If you find out that there have been Holiday displays in the past and they have gathered crowds but were not summonsed that iss your ace of spades. Now you can go in front of the Village Justice and submit your defense citing past practice, Religous beliefs, civil rights and selective enforcement.

Good Luck,

Brian

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Ankeny Iowapopulation 36,000.... Maybe you need to explain your situtation better at the next counsel meeting on November 6th. If all else fails, then advise them that they are violating your Religous beliefs for a religous display. If you can not beat them-join them in their game.

* Note * Hopefully this issue can be resolved without problems But I also believe that it is your right to have a display in the city of Ankeny. From the sounds of it, It is misunderstanding on the chiefs part. Maybe you did not explain it good enough to him.

Do you need me to call him, My client Mr. Sanderson wishes to discuss this issue in a meeting. lol:laughing:

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Scott Loftus wrote:

Ankeny Iowapopulation 36,000.... Maybe you need to explain your situtation better at the next counsel meeting on November 6th. If all else fails, then advise them that they are violating your Religous beliefs for a religous display. If you can not beat them-join them in their game.

Ankeny is essentially a suburb of Des Moines. Not exactly a booming metropolis, but not exactly a town with cows and pigs running up the main street either.

-Tim (who was born & raised in IA)

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I have been thinking about this problem some more and I have a few additional thoughts that might be a little bit more constructive than my last post.

I would just start over. Just ignore everything that has happened to date and start over in your mind. Just do what you plan on doing. I would not go out seeking publicity, but I would not shun it either. When you turn the lights on you will slowly be discovered.

If your traffic gets really bad, which the better the display, the worse the traffic, start by doing fewer songs. Although I have planned a 30 minute show, on the week of Christmas, I plan to cut it down to 2 to 3 songs. The concept of a show will be blown just because of the sheer numbers of people. Get 'em in and out at that point. If it is still bad, schedule 1 to 2 minutes of darkness between loops. This is probably the best way to clear the deck of cars. If it is still bad, do that between every song.

We can be mad at the police and the city for this stupid letter, but then if some civil service like an ambulance is held up because of traffic at your house, you would feel bad.

Your heart was in the right place, but they were not open to anything new and cool.

If you do all of this thenyou have done everythingyou need to be a good citizen. If they still come after you then its time to play hardball (which obviously is one of myfavorite games).

Ken

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Most of what I am going to say was said by others, but If it were me....

I would almost completely ignore the letter and do the show I was planning on doing. The only thing I would do is try to think of a few ways to eliminate any congestion that may occur. Simple things... Don't Park your car on the street in front of the house, keep the sidewalks shoveled, that sort of thing.

I doubt they will cite you with anything. If what they sent you is the entirety of the law, it's a bit vague. Define 'Large Crowd'. Define 'Obstructs Traffic'. Does large crowd mean 5 people, or 1000? Does 'Obstructs Traffic' mean closing a street for hours, or an extra 30 seconds to go from cross street to cross street?

Now, if you do get cited call every single media outlet you can. Don't be shy - TV, radio, and print. Get them all out there and play the 'I'mdoing it for the children' and the 'spirit of the season' cards (I personally would stay away from the religious card, even if that is the main reason behind your show. You want to appeal to EVERYONE). Remember: you are Santa, and the commish is the Grinch. 'Tried to be good citizen', 'all at my own expense', 'smiles on kids faces makes it worth it', 'our way to give back to the community', all are great little points to bring up.

After that, If it STILLgoes to court (and I doubt it would), the city will have to prove the 'nuisance', and the court will have to balance the 'nuisance'with rights of the property owner.

Above all remember thatpolice commissioners,mayors, etc are all just bullies. The best thing to do is just completely ignore them and go on with your life. If they continue to press the issue then confront them. Once they realize you won't back down, 99% of the time they will.

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Dave Sanderson wrote:

Please be advised that Ankeny Municipal Code Section 8.08.020 specifically prohibits you from creating or maintaining a nuisance. In relevant part, Ankeny Municipal Code Section 8.08.190 providesthat "any use of property abutting on a public street or sidewalk ... which causes large crowds of people to gather, which obstructs traffic and free use of streets or sidewalks is a nuisance."

I just checked my local ordinance. They've got a similar phrase, but it is a bit looser. It doesn't talk about any use of a property abutting a public street/sidewalk. Instead, it talks about use of the street/sidewalk itself...

"Any use of the public streets or sidewalks which causes large crowds of

people to gather, obstructing the flow of traffic and the free use of the streets or sidewalks..."

It is getting into the realm of lawyerism, but I think that it could be construed that I was using the public streets if I have an FM radio sign aimed at the street? Otherwise, I've got some wiggle room. Even then, large traffic isn't the same as large crowds.

The interesting thing in my ordinance is that upon given notice, you have 10 days to fix it or appeal. An appeal will happen no sooner than 7 days and no later than 30 days. So you're thinking what I'm thinking, right? Wait for the letter, appeal, and you're good for the season, at least.

The only problem there is if they invoke the clause which declares it an emergency (imminent peril to life or property). They can shut it down however they like, without notice, and then give me an opportunity "to be heard"... "as soon as possible". (Doesn't directly call it an appeal, or set a time.)

DISCLAIMER: None of this is proper legal advice. Sadly, knowledge of the law isn't enough. You have to know how local officials act, and what case law has been developed in your area.

EDIT: Additional thoughts.

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First of all, THANK YOU all for your insights and support. It means more than you know. And especially for the couple of guys herewho put yourselves at risk to pretect your communities, I admire you greatly and appreciate what you do. Which makes it even tougher to have this one knucklehead, who I agree with on every point except the idea that Ishould be viewed and treated like a non-cooperative criminal, insisting on an adversarial relationship.

As angry as I am, and as tempted as I am to goall "scorched earth," in a professional manner,in the press,I'm really leaning towards firing off awell-crafted letter to our mayor and each city council member as a first step, outlining the absurdity of the situation and expressing my very high level of righteous indignation over the way I've been treated. Certainly I'llcopy the Chief, to be fair. I haven't decided for sure whether or not to cut the press in at some level at thecurrenttime. I certainly want to review some of your thoughts here as well those of people I trust locally. On the one hand I want them to take me seriously. On the other, I don't want the publicity. But, ironically, their stance may have put me in the position where I have no choice but to seek public protection from my local authorities, through the very media that will assure there is a traffic problem.I'm really an idiot for talking to them in the first place. Do NOT makethe same mistake yourself.

What I really hope/suspect is going on is that the Chief is running "operation overkill" on his own and that the political folks he answers to won't be very happywith him putting the City in the position of getting a black eye in the press. If they insist that he treat me fairly and I get tangiblereassurance that will actually be the case, we're golden.

It's not going to deteriorate into a legal battle. Fact is that I'm still going to be far more considerate of my neighbor's convenience and safety than the law requires. But some of you offering semi-legal review above will be glad toknow that a couple of attorney friends are scoffing at the thing and mentioningsome of the same points you have outlined.

You guys are absolutely the best! Feel free to continue posting any thoughts. I'll keep you posted in a week or so when I know something more.

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Dave,

I hope everything works out for you. It does sound like the Chief and possibly the City Attorney (who I'm sure loves to send people letters like that) have gone into overkill cover their butts mode. I guess I'm luck to live in one of those "cows running down the street" small Iowa towns. If you look up Hills take a few off our population, we've had some old people pass. :P My biggest concern is our mayor, but for other reasons, he's my toughest "competition" :laughing:

PS I hope to get to see your display when we got to DesMoines Christmas shopping this year.

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Guest Jeff_Womack

Don wrote:

The irony to me is that these types of displays are only going to grow over the next few years.

As I have said in the past more and more of these issues like Dave is going through will creep up. People who have 35 minute "shows" acting surprised when they have traffic jams are laughable. Now I am not saying Dave has caused any of this issue, in fact, I think he did the right thing because he was concerned after seeing what happened in Mason last year. However everyone who does a "show" needs to be prepared for the consequences of a such a "show".

Jeff

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Dave Sanderson wrote:

...As angry as I am, and as tempted as I am to goall "scorched earth," in a professional manner,in the press,I'm really leaning towards firing off awell-crafted letter to our mayor and each city council member as a first step, outlining the absurdity of the situation and expressing my very high level of righteous indignation over the way I've been treated. ...

It's really up to you, but I really don't think you want to do even that. The LAST thing you want right now is more politicians and city type folks getting into the mix. Those people are not there to help you as much as we all like to think otherwise. You've seen FIRST HAND what happens when you try to be a good citizen, so going even higher isn't going to help you at this point.

Now, if they shut you down that is a different story. Call all those peoples' offices. Tell them what happened. Then tell them you are calling the media next. THAT will get them on your side (or make them look very silly in the press).

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oldcqr wrote:

It's really up to you, but I really don't think you want to do even that. The LAST thing you want right now is more politicians and city type folks getting into the mix. Those people are not there to help you as much as we all like to think otherwise. You've seen FIRST HAND what happens when you try to be a good citizen, so going even higher isn't going to help you at this point.

Now, if they shut you down that is a different story. Call all those peoples' offices. Tell them what happened. Then tell them you are calling the media next. THAT will get them on your side (or make them look very silly in the press).

You make a lot of sense, oldcqr, and you have my attention. Is there really nothing (short of all the neighbor relations stuff I'm doing anyway) that I should do proactively to serve notice that I won't be bullied ifthe Chief isbeing a jerk on purpose instead ofinadvertently being a jerk by practicing ill-advised cya? TIA.

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PipefitterDan wrote:

I guess I'm luck to live in one of those "cows running down the street" small Iowa towns. If you look up Hills take a few off our population, we've had some old people pass. :P My biggest concern is our mayor, but for other reasons, he's my toughest "competition" :laughing:

LOL my hometown (Meservey, IA) has something like 250 people these days. Not sure I've actually seen a cow on main street there though :laughing:.

-Tim

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oldcqr wrote:

Now, if they shut you down that is a different story. Call all those peoples' offices. Tell them what happened. Then tell them you are calling the media next. THAT will get them on your side (or make them look very silly in the press).

Once the letter is out there, though, I think you really need to fight it. It adds legitimacy to any action that the local government may take from that point forward. "We sent him a letter explaining that this would be a nuisance and he did it anyways." (They'd want you to read: "so he deserved what he got".)

If you receive a letter with legal claims, even if ridiculous, I believe you are best off addressing that now, rather than let them hold the weight of their (potentially dubious) claims over you at a later point, and further saying that you didn't refute them (or refute them at the proper time).

I'm thinking more opinion/politics than legality, here. They're going to feel completely justified in cracking down on you later because they've sent you 'the letter'. Now that the letter exists, I know that I wouldn't follow the advice that says, "Do nothing now and fight them when the time comes." IMHO, that's too late.

BTW: Thank you THANK YOU for posting this topic!!

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