GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. - Chuck Johnston makes a convincing Santa Claus, but he also dabbles in Grain Valley city government. That's why he's banned from the mayor's tree lighting this year.
Johnston has played Santa at the celebration for six years, pulling up to park in the bus he's converted into a sleigh.
"And the kids run out screaming, 'Here's Santa, here he comes!' And it's fun to see that," Johnston said.
But Johnston will simply be a spectator this year because of ongoing disagreements he said he's had with Mayor Michael Todd.
Johnston served four years as an alderman and was defeated twice by Todd in mayoral elections. Both men admit they rarely see eye-to-eye.
"We were debating some issues about the city spending and in the end of the email, he says, 'Oh by the way, we've decided to go a different direction this year,'" Johnston said.
The email left Johnston without his annual Santa gig.
"I told him, this is not something political, should never be political," Johnston said. "I don't make it political. I'm Santa for the kids, that's all they know me as."
Mayor Todd told 41 Action News that Johnston's criticism of the city, its staff and decisions, simply went too far. Todd said the Christmas celebration will go on, but with a different Santa unless he and Johnston can reach an understanding.
"I don't feel I have anything to apologize about. I'm a citizen, I made some comments about some things I felt were wrong with city government," Johnston said.
Todd said a replacement Santa has not been determined yet. However, he said it would likely be a volunteer working free of charge, just as Johnston had always done.