An interesting follow up piece by Tracey McManus quoting reaction from members of the Clearwater City Government to her bombshell expose from yesterday.
Unsurprisingly, the Clearwater politicos don’t have much to offer in terms of how this happened to their city, what they think it means or more importantly, what they are going to do about it. They have been overwhelmed by a far more sophisticated and well-funded opponent that doesn’t care whether they hurt anyone’s feelings as long as they get their way. Politicians in Clearwater in the last couple of decades have been more concerned about offending scientology than doing what is good for their city.
Scientology responded to the article in typical fashion with a letter from Gary Soter. He is the LA lawyer who is the go-to guy for who will put his name on letters most lawyers would not send. It is strange that if scientology was not going to have an official from the organization make a comment, that they did not have any of their Clearwater lawyers — either from the Johnson Pope firm or Ed Armstrong or Katie Cole from Hill Ward Henderson — provide a response. They deal with the city on property matters all the time, in fact Ed Armstrong was originally hired by scientology precisely because this is his specialized field and his cozy relationships with city officials. Why no word from them?
The quotes from the city officials were pretty much what we have come to expect.
The Mayor, George Cretekos, responded with cautious hypotheticals, but did seem to grow a little less equivocal than he has been in the past saying “it is “disconcerting” that parishioners have assembled property — he thinks likely under the coordination of Scientology leader David Miscavige — and are “not telling us what they want to do.”” That’s almost reckless by George’s stamdards.
City Council member Jay Polglaze was even weaker: he could only manage that the pattern of property purchases “does suggest this is no accident,” but also covered his bases “that they are not necessarily opposed to redevelopment of downtown, but that they want to have a greater influence on how it’s redeveloping.” Obviously he is very afraid of scientology.
In a rather bizarre quote, his dissed the flourishing Dunedin downtown area: “I don’t think they want another Dunedin with 10 breweries in the core.” I don’t think there is anyone in Clearwater who would mind a downtown that could support 10 breweries. It would certainly mean there were plenty of real people there – the staff and all the scientologist that come in for auditing and training are not allowed to drink alcohol.
City Council member David Allbritton was less equivocal, “he believes Scientology leader David Miscavige is assembling properties “for the betterment of himself,” whether or not the 2020 council supports him.”
But then, covering all bases, the article says “he’s gotten the impression from local church staff that Scientology would like to see a vibrant downtown. And some prominent members, like developer Moises Agami, have brought successful businesses into the city.” Obviously he does not know scientology. This is a PR line they try to sell. Believe me, if Moises Agami was told to get rid of all non-scientologist tenants in his building by David Miscavige they would be gone faster than the downtown redevelopment plan vanished when the city refused to sell the Aquarium lot to Miscavige.
But he does seem to understand one important thing: “what happens to downtown next is now clearly up to Miscavige. They aren’t doing it by themselves, it’s coming from the head, and that’s the problem with Scientology, you’ve got to go to the guy at the top because nobody’s going to make a commitment without him.” But who knows what this means to anyone?
City Council member Hoyt Hamilton was more forthright: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this map and see none of these properties, after changing hands here, came forward with ‘here’s what I want to do.’ ”
Hamilton also said: “The city has to comply with the tax-exempt religious status the federal government granted Scientology in 1993. Maybe one day, the government will reconsider. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and the federal government will say ‘you know what, let’s verify our earlier decision’.” Right on.
This is the most important thing anyone said.
He is on the right track. The biggest loser anywhere in the world from the IRS granting scientology tax exempt status is the City of Clearwater. Scientology loves to claim “we are the largest property tax payer in downtown Clearwater” — these days they are almost the ONLY property tax payers in downtown. But the real equation is, how much property tax revenue is Clearwater LOSING with the huge amount of tax exempt property scientology owns? The city would have MASSIVE revenues from these properties if everything was NOT tax exempt. The question is, are they going to do anything about it?
The big cop-out was Council member Bob Cundiff. There have been whispers that his notoriously soft position on scientology indicated he is a scientologist. I would bet against that no matter what odds you gave me. But because he isn’t a scientologist doesn’t mean he isn’t sympathetic or even forwarding their aims whether wittingly or unwittingly. His comments to the Times on this matter read like something a scientology spokesman might have made, if they had put anyone forward to comment.
His first quote: “They haven’t broken any laws.” Well, of course he actually doesn’t know that. But with respect to buying property, he is likely correct. It’s not illegal for anyone to buy any property. But the point here is not whether it is illegal, it is whether it is in the best interests of Clearwater. It’s not illegal for him to cheat on his wife either, but it’s not much a defense if he got caught.
This “it’s not illegal” spin sounds like a talking point from Ben Shaw or Lisa Mansell.
He is then quoted that “he couldn’t speculate on what the new property owners have in mind for their vast sections of downtown.” Maybe not. But I can be sure it’s whatever is good for scientology- not what is good for Clearwater.
And he slipped into full-on scientology-mode spin mode as he played their favorite card in the deck — religious persecution:
“Cundiff said he wondered why the Times wasn’t also looking at “how many properties the Catholic Church owns or the Presbyterian Church owns.””
Well, if Clearwater was dominated by the Catholic Church or Presbyterian Church that would be a valid question. He might as well have asked why they didn’t look into how much property General Motors owns. What wall Bob? And he tacked on his patriotic pitch — gosh it would be “un-American” to be outraged about this.
“We as government officials and me as a council member and American, I’m not treading on any church’s or any individual’s right to buy or sell property.”
And then another often heard Miscavige talking point: scientology is “known for keeping their properties looking nice. Let’s just hope they’ll be good property owners.” Sort of forgetting that many of these buildings sit completely empty and a lot of them are unrenovated.
And finally, in a most bizarre false equivalency argument that even Miscavige would be ashamed of: “There’s certain precedent in Orlando of the same thing,” referring to Walt Disney buying an enormous amount of property in secret for what became Disney World. “I can’t read minds,” Cundiff said. “We’ll have to see what they do.”
That is really some fantastical magic thinking to make scientology seem like Disney.
Cundiff is a scientology apologist. In some ways even less understandable than if he WAS a scientologist.
It is time for some new blood in the city of Clearwater.
I don’t know what can be done about the state of downtown Clearwater. But know this, it CAN get worse. Scientology and Miscavige are not going to stop… All that can be done is to get some people with backbones in place who will not continue to be bullied. Hoyt Hamilton is on the right track. Every citizen of Clearwater should be contacting any elected officials they know to demand that the IRS review the tax exempt status of scientology. This unrestrained, untouchable, secretive money machine is like the Terminator. Undoing their tax exempt status is the only way to defeat them in the end.
This is why I continue to stress the importance of getting Mark Bunker elected to the City Council. Go to markbunker.com.
Alice Thomas says
How can you know for sure if a business on Cleveland St. is not owned or operated by a Scientologist? What about Clear Sky and other restaurants and coffee shops.
Tom Provenzano says
Won’t Bob Cundeff be surprised when a few years from now there will be a guard booth on Cleveland St, manned by none other than Danny (done it again) Dunnigan!
As a side note I read the great article in the Times and noticed that Terri Novitsky purchased two office buildings in the area. The last time I saw her was at the Malibu mission where she was begging for help to get new people in! The mission shut down not long afterwards.
Just wondering where she came up with the cash for those two buildings.
Left up to those politicians they will do nothing but allow Davey to Reach his goal of the first Scientology city. I would not be surprised if he pushes for a new road to go around his city like they tried at Gilman Hot Springs!
Mary Kahn says
Her husband, Norm, is part owner of a multimillion dollar company located in Palm Harbor.
Tom Provenzano says
Thanks for clarifying. I am sure the money came from him.
I think there IS some basis for comparing this situation to Disney in Orlando… but despite what Bob Cundiff might think, that doesn’t make it harmless. Disney’s push for the creation of the “Reedy Creek Improvement District” in the 1960s basically gave them carte blanche to do whatever they want down there. I could imagine Scientology trying something similar. (See Carl Hiaasen’s 1998 book, “Team Rodent”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Rodent )
Zee Moo says
Will the new owners rehab their properties into something that creates value? They could be telephone boiler rooms and sell electricity or gas to the masses. They could put you in touch with your non-existent granddaughter or grandson who are in jail and need you to bail them out. You know, the standard ABLE businesses.
Buying up the CW downtown makes no sense, in any vein. Empty buildings need maintenance and they have to pay taxes. All I see are costs, costs that the formerly well off $cienoes will have to pay out their pockets. Their value can only go down as only Clams will be in the area. If those businesses were donated to the CO$, they would still be taxable unless converted into something ‘religious’.
If those properties become the Tom Cruise Entertainment district, they are still taxable. Taxable unless they contain the ‘Ron Hubbard fights Xenu’ pinball machine.
The city of Clearwater never had a chance. If you throw around enough money, you can buy almost anything, towns included.
My only question is: Were any of the straw buyers actually furnished the money to buy property? It doesn’t matter if that happened. either way hand the keys to the city to Miscavige. Not that he doesn’t already have them.
Would the expansion of Scientology property taken place if Clearwater had a “Strong Mayor” commission? Curios since the residents voted against it.
jere Lull (39 years recovering) says
Renee, whether the Mayor’s “strong” or “weak”, it wouldn’t have been possible to entirely stop Dwarfenführer from making Clearwater “His” barony. Hiding behind his assertion-without-evidence of being a ‘church’ gives him power mere elected officials can’t resist in any meaningful way. The First Amendment prevents anyone from mounting much of an effective official response to scientology’s sociopathic ways.
Downtown Dunedin is great. Polglaze seems to be trying to make it sound like it’s some party town, but it’s not at all. I don’t remember even seeing any breweries — there must be small craft breweries there, I guess. What’s with this guy trying to start a beef with another town in the area? Jealousy? Does he have an ex-wife who lives there? The better one of these towns does, the better they all do, and the better Florida does.
Clearwater is a perfect location for tourism, and Scientology’s wrecked it. It’s not just the city; with that perfect location, it’s the whole state. It should be famous for parks and art fairs and hotels and, yes, craft breweries. Beaches, fishing, it’s ridiculous how prosperous that little town should be. Instead, it’s proof that Scientology’s nothing but a parasite.
Btw, the IRS recently admitted that they don’t audit rich people because they don’t have the funding to. They aren’t going to touch Scientology no matter how much pressure’s brought to bear. They simply don’t have the funds. What every citizen of the country should be doing is contacting their federal elected officials and demanding more funding for the IRS. And if they’re the kind of elected officials in the pockets of the wealthy, turf them out. This is WAY beyond just Clearwater, or Florida, or Scientology.
Cat W. says
Does anyone know if it would be possible for the city to choose another area in which to promote commercial development, to eventually “move the downtown” outside of the Scientology-controlled region? It might be less of a long shot than hoping to get the CoS or its diehard parishioners to cooperate with anything for the good of the city. Sort of like how the body can sometimes sequester infections or brains can sometimes create new networks to restore functions disrupted by injury. Infection and brain damage are good metaphors for Scientology’s effect on Clearwater.
jere Lull (39 years recovering) says
Cat W graced us with:
“Does anyone know if it would be possible for the city to choose another area in which to promote commercial development, to eventually “move the downtown” outside of the Scientology-controlled region?”
As I see it, it might be possible if they did it quietly enough that scn didn’t notice it. It would mean, at a minimum, moving the primary roads around the current downtown, which current actual businesses would rightfully complain about. Still, subtly shifting the development efforts to the beach might be a starting point. Even 40 years ago, the beach was an underutilized resource, IMO.
George M White says
The only thing left in downtown Clearwater is the airspace. I wish I was a pilot and could fly a little plane pulling a banner “Scientology Kills”. Just keep going around and around in a circle.
Miscavige would come up flying as the Red Baron and try to shoot me down.
You can George. Just use a drone. MUCH simpler to get a license for a sizable one and NOTHING the City/Church State can do about it…
George M White says
Great idea. I will look into it. When Miscavige shoots down the drone, I need to get it
jere Lull (39 years recovering) says
“Miscavige would come up flying as the Red Baron and try to shoot me down”
IF and only if he could see over the instrument panel. Only in his dreams — Quentin’s, rather. More likely, he’d get an underling to do it for him. He’s too much a wuss to risk himself in anything.
Mary Kahn says
“Undoing their tax exempt status is the only way to defeat them in the end.”
It is beyond me why 501c3’s are granted with then no accountability as to what is done with tax exempt dollars. What is the public good and what are the damages this “church” creates? Come on IRS!!!!
“Every citizen of Clearwater should be contacting any elected officials they know to demand that the IRS review the tax exempt status of Scientology.” Okay.
“Every citizen of Clearwater should be contacting any elected officials they know to demand that the IRS review the tax exempt status of Scientology.”
This has not happened in over 25 years and even if it does, it won’t happen for some time. What ‘every citizen of Clearwater’ should be doing (and should have done Long Ago) is Take Their City Back . . . . Easily done by showing up and supporting non-$ businesses, instead of avoiding the area. Their very Presence will cause the $’s to scatter like cockroaches when the lights go on. They should cease allowing themselves to be Bullied; had they done this decades ago, I doubt the bullies could have taken such a stronghold. It’s an extablished fact: All Bullies Is Cowards! And, (paraphrase) Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.
Charlotte Wiskow says
You are right on. Their tax exempt status is terribly wrong!!!
jere Lull (39 years recovering) says
IMO, the IRS 501c(3) exemptions violate the establishment clause of the first Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, ….”
Strictly speaking, that is what should give us freedom FROM religion; ensuring that we don’t devolve into some sort of theocracy.
I had a nightmare a while back, imagining what life would be like if scientology DID take over some country somehow. It was bad enough in the Sea Org; imagine if Dwarfenführer’s whim could sentence anyone to a work-detail prison like the RPF….
SORRY if I just gave anyone else nightmare material.
Just keep remembering: It’s ALL a dream, it’s just a dream.
I think what occurred in Clearwater over the decades since the 70s when the cult bought the first building and with them taking over more and more ever since could have occurred in any of thousands of economically vulnerable, small American cities. The cult chose Clearwater because of the name, I read somewhere. And the climate, maybe? And the price was right? But for whatever reason LRH chose CW, what happened there could have happened elsewhere. I think its too late for Clearwater now – the toxic waste has spilled; it can only be contained. But to prevent the same takeover occurring elsewhere, the economic vulnerability of the targeted town or area has to be addressed and handled, I would think. Look, you don’t see the Dwarf gobbling up property in prosperous cities and suburbs. He goes for economically depressed areas. This is no slur on Clearwater, please. Before becoming a Scientologist I was there briefly in the early 80s visiting family friends. They took us to the beach – what a fabulous, pristine beach! Pure blue-green water, endless soft, clean white sand – wow! What resort area potential. Back then I wondered why it wasn’t packed with hotels, teeming with vacationers. The town was quiet – very quiet, back then. I’m thinking, somehow, Clearwater was very vulnerable to this type of take-over. Someone who knows the area please feel free to jump in here and add to this, or whatever, correct me if/as necessary.
Chee Chalker says
There is a lot of confusion about the purpose of Establishment Clause.
It was simply to prevent the government from establishing any kind of “state” religion (ie Church of England) – as you said, a theocracy.
However, not establishing a state religion is much different than freedom from religion.
The founders didn’t want freedom from religion – just the opposite. They wanted to ensure people had the freedom to practice any religion or none at all.
IMO, banning religion is just as bad as enforcing a state religion because in both cases, there is no freedom of choice.
Just as other charities have exempt status under 501 (c)(3) Rules, so do religions who do actual charitable work.
Just think about all the hospitals out there that were founded by certain religions (here in
Chicago, for example, we have Presbyterian St Luke’s (now called Rush), Lutheran General, any one of the Catholic “St hospitals”, etc etc.
There are many many genuine religious based charities who need tax exempt status to survive. As I’m sure you know, the reasoning behind tax exempt status is that the charities alleviate some of the financial burden on all of us – the taxpayers.
Because if those charities weren’t doing the work, guess who would pay for it?
The problem is not in giving tax exempt status to genuine charitable organizations. It’s giving abusive cults 501(c)(3) status and not monitoring them properly.
Can’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.
One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch girl.
Hmmm, can’t think of any other cliches at the moment, but you get the idea.
Chee, MOST people are completely clueless about the US Constitution. It is a SIMPLE document. BUT, it DOES take a reading comprehension level of a schooled adult .. of the 18th century USA/UK. Only about 5% of people today can read at that level and understand the definitions of the words as they were at that time.
Most atty’s these days have NOT been through a lass that actually studies the Constitution as written.
The U.S. Constitution is also a real miracle. I cannot understand how a small group of people (maybe even only a handful of people) were able to create such a profound document in such a short period of time.
Chee Chalker says
I agree 100%
IMO, most people have a ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ knowledge about not only the Constitution, but also the legal system in general
I was fortunate enough to go to law school. We had one full year of Constitutional Law (Con Law I and Con Law II – very creative class titles there!)
Reading the Constitution is interesting and reading ancillary writings (Federalist Papers) helps to understanding some of the reasoning.
The challenging part is reading court cases that further define/interpret what the Constitution means – that is where the fun starts!
Annie Oakley says