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Holiday decor banned at entryway

Everyone knows that the Grinch spends his winters on the outskirts of Whoville, but apparently he summers in Northdale.

Northdale Special Tax District members voted this week to get rid of lighted holiday decorations, including a Christmas tree and a menorah, that adorned the front entrance to the neighborhood last fall.

Board member Winfield Webster proposed selling or giving away the decorations and was joined in the vote by Bill Castens, Jean Hill, Esther Lutz and Gary Moore. Board members voting to keep them were Kevin Ambler, Dennis Cooper, Manny Garcia and Brian Tanberg.

"The simple reason is, I don't think it represents all the people of Northdale," Webster said, referring to the menorah. "I don't think this board ought to be dictating whatever sign is at the front of Northdale."

Moore said he received complaints from residents. "I never thought it would cause the controversy that it did," Moore said. "I don't want to do it again."

Castens, who headed a subcommittee that selected the tree and menorah, said much the same. "I think there was some negative feedback," Castens said. "And it does create controversy."

Hill said she had received comments from residents who were "shocked and horrified," that the menorah was used.

Castens said he would be inclined to use decorations that are more neutral, such as candles or icicle lights.

But Ambler questioned whether there truly was an outcry about the matter. "I don't think it created the firestorm that's being represented here," Ambler said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental agencies can display Christmas trees and menorahs without violating the separation of church and state.

"Unfortunately, it has divided not only the community, but the board itself," Lutz said.

Cooper, speaking after the meeting, said, "I'm extremely disappointed. The residents of Northdale have always been proud of their willingness to accept diversity. Unfortunately, several of the board members are unable to tolerate diversity. I hope the residents let these elected officials know that this behavior is unacceptable."

At the meeting, Cooper recommended board members seek diversity training, or perhaps have a rabbi instruct them on the significance of the menorah.

An unidentified audience member said it wouldn't be right to have a religious figure address the board.

"Amen," Hill said.

_ Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 813-226-3464

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