Town Politics Strips Town Santa of Holiday Gig

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GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. -- A town Santa is let go because he said he doesn't see eye-to-eye with the city administration.

Chuck Johnston is the guy behind the festive Santa Bus in Grain Valley, Mo., leading up to Christmas. Johnston has been the town Santa for 17 years and for six of those years, he's been a volunteer Santa for the mayor's Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

"A lot of kids in town, I'm the only Santa they've ever known, if they don't take them to the mall, and I don't know of any other Santa in town here," Johnston said.

But they soon will, at least, for the tree lighting ceremony. A few weeks ago, the former city alderman emailed Mayor Mike Todd about overspending. He not only got a response, but at the end of that email, the mayor thanked him for his past service as Santa, and wrote, "After looking at different options this year I have decided to go in a different direction for that event with our Santa this year."

Johnston said he and the mayor have never agreed on politics. He also said recent remarks offended some city staff when he complained about salaries, and questioned if one staff member was honoring her contract. Johnston said he thinks letting him go as town Santa, is what all that's come to.

"Because of political differences between myself, the mayor and the city administrator, they asked me not to do it this year, they said they were going to get their own Santa," Johnston said.

But the mayor said Johnston can still be the town Santa if he smooths it over with those staff members he's offended. Todd also said this move is a part of multiple ones for the ceremony and said in a statement, "I realize some 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 an even better experience for the hundreds of citizens who attend."

The tree lighting ceremony is Dec. 6. The mayor said no city funds will be used for the replacement Santa.

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