Politics Blamed on Getting Santa Booted from Town Lighting Ceremony

(Grain Valley, Missouri) — A decision by Mayor Michael Todd to make some changes to this year’s Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting isn’t sitting well with one member of the public. Chuck Johnston, who has for several years been providing the tree lighting with the addition of Santa Claus at no cost, was notified by the mayor that his services would not be needed this year.

Johnston, a former alderman, twice lost the mayor’s race to Todd, and has been openly critical of the mayor, board of aldermen, and some members of the city staff. He believes the decision regarding the Christmas Tree Lighting is retaliation for his public comments and emails he has written to the board.

Johntson also drives through Grain Valley each year with the Santa Bus, which stops in neighborhoods throughout the city to deliver toys, meet with families and pose for pictures. The Santa Bus, not affiliated with the city, will continue making the rounds this holiday season.

“This isn’t something that should be made political,” Johnston said, indicating that he believed the city administrator, Alexa Barton, initiated the decision.

“If I had ever felt this was political, I wouldn’t have done Santa for Mike. But this isn’t about Mike or me, it is something for the kids and that is the way it should be kept. If Alexa has a problem with me, she should come to me about it, rather than making Mike the goat. If Mike is the one behind it than he should step back and look at who this affects.”

For his part, the mayor had few specifics in his statement regarding the entire controversy.

“Recently, I made several decisions regarding some changes to the Grain Valley Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting for this year,” Todd wrote. “I realize some of my decisions may not be popular with a few citizens, however, this event is ultimately for all of our citizens – specifically, the kids – and I believe the changes will make the Tree Lighting more like a Christmas Festival and an even better experience for the hundreds of citizens who attend.”

The lighting will still include a Santa Claus, according to Todd.

As for Johnston’s allegation that the city administrator was involved in the decision, Mayor Todd stated that it was “one hundred percent my decision. No one on city staff had any part in this decision.”

Barton said she didn’t know a lot about events in the past, but was excited for the things planned for this time around.

“This will be my second Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting since coming to the City in September of 2011, so my knowledge of past events is limited,” Barton said. “Yet, I do agree with the mayor that the enhancements to this year’s tree lighting ceremony will help make the evening more entertaining – not to mention different and exciting.”

She said she would love to share some of those changes with the public, “but that would ruin the surprise.” But she asked that everyone give it a chance before they criticize it.

“While there are a few folks in town who are adverse to change and would like to keep the event status quo, as it has been the last few years, the mayor would like to make the event better for our citizens, especially through these difficult economic times, so I encourage them to give it a chance and come enjoy the evening with us.”

Johnston said that, since he had been volunteering his time, any replacement which costs money would be wasteful, “if it isn’t something as good or better than what I provide.”

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