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

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Not to turn this into a soap opera, but just to update. I was finally able to talk to one of my best friends all the way back from high school -- a political guy, currently a state representative. Drug him out of a political meeting, in fact. :) He seemed to think I was on the right track crafting a fairly powerful letter to council members and the mayor. Noting that only elected officials are going to be responsive -- everybody else is gonig to act like a bureaucrat, since that's what they are. The one suggestion he made was to be sure to talk to my council member first, as that would be proper protocol and I don't want to give them reason to get distracted by some minor failure in process.

Thankfully this isn't a timed crisis, as I may not get it done until Friday. I'll keep you updated as I know anything in a few days to a week (or more).

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Well having been involved in politics and government I would like to give you a few suggestions.

First, I agree with Tim go to the press and local radio and TV stations. But do it just prior to when you turn the lights on. This way you will get the most bang for your buck as they will come out and do remotes and the papers will take pictures.

Second, This letter is in fact a threat. Make no mistake about it they are telling you that if you cause a problem they will charge you with what amounts to a local misdomeaner.

Third, talk to your neighbors and get them on your side for support. Make sure your little voiceovers ask people to keep moving so that all neighbors and traffic can move easily.

Finally, I would make sure I made the display. I would not let them bully me into tucking tail and running. I will tell you for sure if they decide to arrest you it will make national news and all charges will be dropped. The city will not want to be known as the City that stole Christmas.

Now tells us the city website!!!!!!!

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Here's the letter that went out today. I sent it to my council person and copied the remainder plus the mayor. Which may have been a minor mistake, as it may have been smarter to send them something that asked for their direct involvement instead. That said, it turns out the mayor is an old radio guy, so we have mutual friends who will contact him initially on my behalf. Same with at least two of the other council persons so far. Here's the letter. Written by a professional :), but a bit rushed as I re-read it now. Hopefully good enough, though.

Dear Councilman Welch:

I need your help regarding some outrageous actions taken by a City official that I simply cannot believe reflects the intentions and policy of the City of Ankeny.

My name is Dave Sanderson, I live at 222 N.E. 16th Street, and over the past months I have been working on creating one of the coolest residential holiday displays in Central Iowa to share with my neighbors and our community. What I am doing is not entirely unique, as dozens of other people around Iowa and hundreds throughout the United States have been bitten by the Christmas bug and work to share something special with the kids, young and old, are using similar technology. But it is pretty cool, and for me, it is also a ministry.

My hope is that it will generate a reasonable level of extra traffic in my neighborhood and positive attention for Ankeny. Ideally, about as much as the wonderful displays in the S.E. part of town. But on the outside chance that it could generate more, and in trying to be as buttoned-up, proactive, and the best citizen possible, I made what you would never have guessed was a mistake – I went to our local expert on traffic, Police Chief Gary Mikulec, for advice.

Now you might think that when someone who is about as close to a model citizen as you can get – I’m a Boy Scout Council VP; college adjunct faculty member;long-term corporate CEO (ad agency) who hasn’t had so much as a parking ticket in years; someone who respects, supports, and clearly intends to work towards the public safety goals of the City by virtue of asking for the meeting in the first place -- that person might be viewed as a cooperative partner, right? Think again. Because I was genuinely taken aback by the combative and hostile tone in which that meeting began. I was under the impression that it ended on a more positive note. But I was clearly mistaken.

Zoom forward two months. My wife and I have now been served a CERTIFIED letter from the law firm representing the City of Ankeny threatening legal action under a somewhat vague ordinance that I have, and have never had, any intention of breaking!

Again, the only reason the Chief even knows I am planning to do a display at all is specifically because I am, or was, 100 percent on his side. Which makes this hostile, adversarial approach towards dealing with one of the most cooperative of citizens the most outrageous, indefensible thing I can imagine any city has ever done! Or had done on its behalf. And I cannot even begin to describe the level of personal offense I take to it. To be clear, I am absolutely INCENSED!

And I do not believe this action should stand, as it simply would not hold up to the light of public scrutiny.

So I come to you for help and clarification. Is this really the City of Ankeny’s policy and position towards citizens like myself? Is the City really prepared for the level of public outrage and ridicule that comes with this kind of incredulous behavior? Is it truly the intent, is it really standard practice, of the City to react to people who have done nothing wrong other than demonstrating total agreement with the City’s goals and concerns by responding, “Well, if that’s the case, we’d better sic the lawyers on him”?

What an unbelievable waste of resource and unconscionable thing to do!

All I want is to at least be treated fairly and to work cooperatively with the City IF, on the outside chance, there actually turns out to be actual traffic problems. But it is clear that the City, as represented by Chief Mikulec, has no intention of treating me fairly. The code cited is vague enough it could apply to any increase in traffic, and would allow the Chief to act without a fair opportunity for me to cooperate or otherwise mitigate the problem, should he so choose. And it appears clear by his actions that is his intent. Has the City sent similar certified letters threatening legal action to all the fine folks trying to add Christmas joy in S.E. Ankeny? I think we know the answer. Which makes it equally clear that, before my display has even been put together, I will be targeted and held to a different standard.

The real shame of this, Councilman, is that when I met with Chief Mikulec I really liked the guy. And nobody admires and respects our fine police force and appreciates their willingness to put themselves at risk for the safety of the rest of us more than me. So having to protect myself against the Chief of those whose job it is to protect my rights comes not only with a great deal of outrage, but a sense of sadness as well. Nonetheless, I simply cannot let this stand, and am asking for your intervention on my behalf. The last thing I want is to have to turn to the power of public opinion to protect my rights.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Dave Sanderson

[email protected]

H: 964-5798

W: 224-9330

C: 238-6067


Councilman Craig Block\

Councilman Dave Kissinger

Councilman Gary Lorenz

Councilman Tom Strait

Mayor Van Oort

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WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLES PROBLEM? I have a large display and am tuning if up more than just a notch this year. And the police I've talked to were more than helpful. There are several large halloween displays near me... one of which the police actually close the whole street to traffic. At the other display there were three cops out front directing traffic and keeping things moving. I asked the officer if he was hired by the homeowner and he said he was assigned without cost to the homowner as just anouther public service. The other two cops had volinteered there time! He knew of my display and told me conditions would be asessed once the lights are turned on and approprete police presence would be provided if needed. End of story....So what the heck is going down in your town!

Good Luck ,


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In reading this, I feel really bad for you. I guess I'm pretty lucky in the town I live in (Jacksonville, Ar - just North of Little Rock). In a 30 minute span last year, I had 7 police cars in front of my house. When the first one arrived, I walked up to talk to him and see if there was a problem, or if someone had complained. His reponse: "No sir. Our Lieutenant drove by here a short time ago and called over the radio that when we got a chance, we needed to come check it out." Over the season, I had a minimum of 2 or 3 police cars cruise by - very slowly - every night. As well as several drive by as I was taking everything down to tell me how much they enjoyed it.

Hopefully your's will get worked out and you can enjoy the Christmas Season without that on your mind.

Good luck! Mike

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Now, I just wonder what they're going to try to proclaim as a public nuisance? 2 people looking at the display?

And in whose opinion does it become a nuisance? Does a neighbor have to call and complain, or is it just the opinion of a cop or the chief driving by that is enough?

Unfortuanately, you can't just simply 'ignore' the letter. If anything does happen, that will be used as evidence that you were forwarned.

Now, having said all of that, definitely do the display as you have intended. It is quite possible that there's a misunderstanding on how large the display is going to be. It's not illegal for people to park on the side of the road (ok, unless signage saying otherwise is present). And it's not illegal for people to walk, stand, and talk on a sidewalk.Otherwise, every park in town would be a nuisance situation. If there's *any* problem, I hope that the police would offer to talk to you first about the situation, rather than just jumping off the handle. And hopefully your letter you wrote will get a response from Welch to the police chief asking him to cool it a bit, and let you present your display without interference.

It's a huge shame you have to have this on your mind as you set up your display. Best of luck.

If necessary, if they claim you are a nuisance, I guess 3,300 PC members will have to show up in court as witnesses that you are not!!! :)

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Asa former Law Enforcement officer, I can not believe that, even in a small town, that they do not have something else to do. Heck, if they are that slow of a department, the traffic detail would give them something to do!!!

Good luck and PLEASE keep us posted!!!


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Try adding a "collecting for local charity" component to yourdisplay!!

Offer the police to let them "write tickets" to all the people who come to see your display. The "fine" could be split between the police dept and a local charity. That way, you are raising money for the police and helping your community! The more people who come and view, the more money you can raise!

That waywhen the city counciltries to stop your display, they are also causing a local charity to be adversly affected!

ladybyrd...jest trying to turn lemons into lemonaide!!

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I have abit of an update. But first, an aside and reinforcement to my original post. I got a call today from anotherfriend in politics, also a state legislator, but this one a retired police chief from Eastern Iowa. I told him about the certified letter, which he thought was insane since I had gone to them in the beginning. Then he gave this advice, "You should never have gone to them in the first place. You're far better off to just do it and deal with any problems when they come up." Again, this from a lifelong police officer and chief, so there you go.

I got a call from my council person this moring right after 8:00 just to let me know he was going to look into it. He had actually driven past the house yesterday and saw us on the roof. Later in the day I got a call from the City Manager's office, actually the City's Public Relations Officer, a former student of minefrom a ad class. Terrific young woman, very bright, and somebody I really like a lot. First thing out of her mouth is that the certified letter was 100% the police chief - nobody in the Manager's office had reviewed it, or even been aware it was being sent. That doesn't really make it any less real, of course.

I explained to her what had occurred to me over the weekend -- from a pure marketing standpoint,assuming that my only goal is to haveas many people as possible see my display (with 100 people seeing a video online being worth, say,1 person live) they had handed me the golden egg. That letter with a broadcast quality tapeof the display and a well-written release spelling out howI wasn't going to run my display for the general public, just the media, friends, family and neighbors by request in fear of the City's hostile stance, would get me not only ongoing local press, but likely national attention as well. Which would make my display like those hot toys they have every year that everybody wants because they can't get it -- my display would be "Tickle Me Elmo" -- the display so good you can't see it -- and everyone would seek it out online. Meaning that I could reach millions of viewers following this strategy, rather than hundreds, or maybe a couple thousand, going the way I really wanted.

For those of you who aren't in PR, the downsidefor the cityif I go withthis strategy approachesDEFCON 5. It has the potential of being absolutely devistating.But that wouldsimply be collateral damage from a pure marketing standpoint. My former student/City PR Officer certainly grasps that problem, she's an excellent presenter, and I'm sure shewill explain to anyone who doesn't already get it thatthe best strategy for me at this point in order toget the most eyeballs, no matter what they do to try to mitigate the problem, would be in this exact way. (I'm not laying out the strategy to start a debate or seeking advice about whether it's a good idea, by the way. Since the City knows about Planet Christmas from my first visit I'm just going to ask you to trust me on the marketing stuff, andthat I realize and agreethat we all do this for the live visitors, not for the sake of producing a video.)

Where it's left is that my student/friend will brainstorm with the powers that be to see if there is a way to resolve these two concerns, 1) I want to be able to do my display without theat from the City. and 2) for the sake of the City I love, I would like to see some remedial training for the Chief so that he better understands the political/PR componentof his job. In other words the SERVE part of "to protect and serve." The guys on the street have a tough enough job without this guy abusing their supporters.

Finally, "eliminating the threat from the City" is much more challenging that it may at first appear. They can say anything they want, but none of that holds upagainst the weight of the certified letter. Further the letter specified the code they were threatening me with, and that they anticipated that what I was planning would likely violate how they were going to interpret it. They can't change the code -- no time. They can't give me some special dispensation, because that wouldn't rise to the legal standing of the code it was trying to address (no multiple public hearings as I understand it -- it's nice to have a sister that's also a lawyer sometime:) ) So it seems that the only way to deal with the problem is to make sure my display doesn't violate the code at all if enforced with the gusto they suggested. My "solution" does that. I'm not sure how anything short of the City taking responsibility for making sure traffic doesn't violate the code is going to cut it, and I'm not sure that's going to happen. The Chief rang the bell, and it can't now legally be unrung.

More as it happens. Sorry for the long-windedness of this post and thread. But I guess if it helps some of my Planet Christmas brethern, maybe I can at least think that I've finally contributed something to this community instead of just stealing expertise from it. ;)

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Congratulations! Your last post seals it up. You've already got an excellent story right there. In fact, I'm resisting the heavy temptation to whisper this into the right ears of the blogosphere.

I know one A-list blogger in particular that would just die for early-access to a story like this before it goes national. (Caution: bloggers, in general, can be a little too quick to let the story loose.)

Sounds like the city gave you the best Christmas present you could ever want!

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As a final update with a happy ending, I met this afternoon with the Assistant City Manager in charge of public safety. He apologized on behalf of the City for the threatening certifiedletter, explained that the problem was an overzealous attorney, and that the procedures by which this problem occurred have been changed. THANK GOODNESS!

Better yet, we then accomplished what I had gone to the police chief two months ago to do -- we figured out a plan to best handle traffic issues if they should occur, including signage and barricades that could really solve the problem I was most worried about. So all's well that ends well. Plus I still have the certified letter exposing them in a compromised position if they decide not to be fair after all.:devil:

And in the end if this thead saves but one of my Planet Christmas brethern or ...would it be cistern? :)... from going through what I've endured, it will have been worth it. DO NOT try to preemptively work with the police unless you are sure they are friendly in your area.

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Dave, I am really glad to here that you got it all resolved. I was amazed at the letter you got. You know lawyers thou, there job is to make stuff sound a lot worse it really is, and try to take everything to an extreme. Very shocked that a lawyer was ever envolved thou it should of never gone that far.

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Excellent news. I'm glad that they finally saw things the proper way, even though it probably took a number of people to get involved.

Now you can finally sit back and enjoy preparing your display without wondering what's going to cross the line!

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Joel wrote:

I am glad to see the situation resolved. Is theoverzealous attorneygoing to get a slap on thewrist or something more appropiate? Like maybe standing outside in an elf costume and tights handing out candy canes?

Or perhaps.... a grinch costume handing out lumps of coal??? :laughing:


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  • 1 month later...

Scuba_dave wrote:

Any problems, with the display?

Actually, yes.And I'm about to make you sorry you asked,because I'm very long-winded and passionate about this. :)

Following our meeting in November, the Assistant City Manager, the Fire Chief, The Police Chief, and the City Engineer (gotta love bureaucracies -- endless resources for lawyers and administration, but always shorthanded when it comes to theguys on the street) puttheir heads together and put up "Local Traffic Only" and arrow signage to keep visitors from continuing straight into the blind cul de sac at the end of my street. I'm sure that eliminated problems. Also, after being threatened as I was, I nervously watched traffic constantly when the lights were on. It's amazing how having that vague and undefined threat hanging over your head can pretty much ruined the whole experience. You keep wondering at what point are they going to arbitrarily declare the you've drawn a "crowd?" And at what point are the going to say traffic is "obstructed"? And how determined is the police chief to "get even" for me objecting to their hostile position in the first place?

The good news is that things went very smoothly and they only got one complaint call - an anonymous (of course) call that someone in line was blocking their drive and wouldn't move. My problem was the way the guys on the street had been instructed to deal with me on such complaints. Which was completely opposite of what they hadpromised me, clearly in conflict with the best interest of the City andinformal direction of the Council, and, frankly, in violation of the law. Not that any of those things matter, as I'm going to do anything I can to help the guys in blue that are actually out on the street working. At least this past season.

Interestingly, in our meeting last summerwhen I called the chief on his obvious intent to look for any excuse to shut me down, he assured me that wasn't the case and gave a blocked drive call as an example. Specifically he said, "If someone is blocking a drive, that's not your fault. In that case we wouldtalk to the person blocking the drive." Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, it didn't work out that way. Not once they decided to mis-apply the nuisanceordinance they had ginned up to fit about any situation they wanted.

What they did in actual practice when they received their sole (and again, anonomyous) call about a blocked drive was to try to call my home (line was busy) to tell me to shut down. In fairness, what the officer told me when he came to my house was that one of the side streets was blocked with traffic. But again, they had been instructed to follow through in the exact spirit and language of the original, outrageous certified letter rather than make any attempt to resolve the actual problem. So the City's ultimate disposition towards my lights, as proven in real life, was every bit as hostile, unfair, and outrageous as the certified letter indicated.

There are a range of things that I can do about it for next year onlegal, public relations, and political fronts. One legal maneuver (since they insist on going there) which is absolutely mind-blowing, if it works. (I probably shouldn't spell it out publically at this time since, at least at one time, the police were monitoring my posts here -- heaven forbid they put half the effort into helping that they've put intotrying tocriminalizeme.)

Bottom line, we had no real problems with the display this year, but we have a HUGE fundamental problem with the City to resolve before I can put up lights next year. My plan is to just worry about the lights and letmy Napolean complex deal with the City. :)

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Sorry to hear that, Dave. I know what you mean about having a "huge, undefined problem" looming over you, taking the fun out of the season. It's been that way here for three seasons now, but fortunately not with the city...

PM me if you want to talk privately. Don't know if I have any advice, but I can at least empathize...


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I'm on a dead end street. There were quite a few cars that woud come down the street, drive past slowly - then go do wn the street - U-turn

Then come back & slowly drive by the house again

I don't have an animated show (yet) & do not broadcast

But next year is a possiblity I will start

I bought (43) 100 ct green strings to build a tree, and 48 red 100 ct for a 2nd tree

My tree will be under a very large Oak tree

I will use a pulley to raise the tree, the wires will be free standing - staked in a circle to form the tree

As I raise it I have large looking lights to wrap around it

So the overall effect will be a green Chrtistmas tree w/light bulbs wrapped around it

I also have oversized ornaments to hang up

Increasing my setup from 15k to 46k+ lights made me wonder what other people have run into. I know my neighbors love it. It helps that the (2) neighbors across the street both have 2x & triple lots. So when people slow down they are no tblocking any driveways. Once people turn around I have a stream & woods before my next neighbor on my side of the street. So the only driveway that is blocked is mine

I have only seen 2 cars at a time on the street

But with my large Hallowen display AND a large Christmas display I am bound to start attracting more attention each year

Sorry to hear of your problems. I had a nieghbor drive as I was on the roof taking stuff down. He gave a big grin & a thumbs up

I have more problems with my wife then the neighbors :laughing:

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wow actually just the other day iwas going out to get the mail and i noticed the police driving by my display very slowly and then they stopped to say hi and ask the usaly questiona on how you do this and blah blah ble ble. but anyway they told me tht everynight they were sending cars out to my display to check on it every night ever since it was first lite just make sure there was no funny buisness going around with vandalizing and that made me pretty happy :waycool:to i went to the chief and personally thanked him and he was glad to do to becuase he was such a big fan he would bring the kids and wife everynight

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