You may have read or seen others commenting on this recent article by Tracey McManus.
Clearwater City Council candidates mum on Scientology’s impact downtown
I found the article fascinating (I have included the full text of it below) for a number of reasons.
First, EVERYONE in Clearwater knows exactly what the biggest problem facing Clearwater is. The downtown is dead. While neighboring Dunedin, Safety Harbor and even St. Petersburg are flourishing and prospering, Clearwater languishes in the empty storefront doldrums.
Yet Clearwater has greater potential for its downtown than any other city around — it sits on a bluff overlooking the Intracoastal waterway, it is home to one of the best beaches in the world and has a beautiful marina and a large park. What could possibly be wrong? Of course, it’s also the international spiritual headquarters of an infamous cult. It’s the single difference between Clearwater and the other flourishing cities that surround it. Scientology is the elephant in the room that isn’t just sitting in the corner. It rampages around, squashing things in its sight and dropping large helpings of dung that stink the place up. People in Clearwater venture downtown with trepidation, if not fear, holding their noses and looking over their shoulders.
The ONLY people that try hard to avoid mentioning this are the Clearwater City Government. They have chronic fear of elephants, even the imaginary ones it seems.
Thus you have a comedy of silly responses to the simple question of the biggest problem facing downtown. Scientology is alluded to as “they” — as if by not speaking their name “they” may not know they are being referred to. Seriously? The only reason you can refer to them by “they” (like some aliens that landed in the midst of normal people) is that EVERYONE understands who “they” is.
Or the politicians claim “they don’t know much about them.” Wow, that’s really reassuring. The biggest property owner in Clearwater and the person running for City Commission says he doesn’t know much about them? Like someone running for government in Gainesville saying they don’t know much about the University of Florida (“Gators”? What gators?)
But perhaps the most naive and foolish comments were the typical politician’s fallback: “We need to figure a way to co-exist with them and figure out a way to work with them in the future…” and “We need cooperation with each other…”
What will it take for these people to learn that scientology ONLY does what is beneficial for scientology? Surely the Aquarium incident made that clear. When things don’t go the way scientology wants, suddenly the smiles turn to threats and radio silence ensues. Scientology has ALWAYS been about what is best for them and that will NEVER change. No matter how they try to gild that turd with PR statements, their self interest trumps the interests of the community.
In simple terms, what is scientology’s view of what is best for them? Nobody OTHER than scientologists in downtown Clearwater. They do not want nosy “wogs” around. They didn’t want anyone across the street from the Ft Harrison and next door to the Oak Cove so they fought hard and dirty trying to strong arm the purchase of that piece of land. They could never give the real reason, so they made up a story about needing to build a swimming pool and playground. What a joke. There is an underutilized pool right in the Ft Harrison, another one in the Sandcastle, and if they really felt the need for an additional pool for the Oak Cove they could have installed one in the land they already own directly across the street which is empty space (part of the “protective perimeter). This “perimeter” mentality is the same thing they have done at the international management headquarters at Gilman Hot Springs. Buying every property adjoining their original land and then bulldozing the buildings to create an empty perimeter “moat” around the property.
When are the elected officials in Clearwater going to start realizing that they do not need to fear scientology? The truth is they have little political weight to throw around. They do NOT have a huge block of voters. The fact is, any politician who stood up and told it like it is — something that EVERY citizen of Clearwater knows — would be overwhelmingly supported. Scientology acts like a bully, but they don’t have anything backing their machismo.
But back in the 70’s, the City DID try to curtail scientology’s activities with the ill-advised Charitable Solicitation Ordinance. Scientology sued and eventually prevailed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the city had to pay scientology’s attorney’s fees. It seems they are still smarting and have been intimidated into submission. They need to realize the world is a very different place today. They need to get smart and figure out how to prevent scientology from continuing to eat up the downtown, buying every property they can get their hands on.
It’s not an easy problem to solve. But until the elected officials of Clearwater can tell it like it is, there is no hope. The first step is being willing to speak about the problem — only then is there a hope that any ACTION could be taken.
A word of advice — no need to worry about pissing off Miscavige or Ben Shaw. They ALREADY think you are contemptible wogs. They only pretend to have even a modicum of decorum in public. Behind closed doors they laugh at you.
And speaking of Ben Shaw, the funniest comment of all was: “the church is not involved with or interested in local politics and elections.”
Does he think anyone buys this? It’s a total lie. They maintain a PR front of “not telling people who to vote for.” Even that is a lie. All they need do is figure out which candidate they think will be favorable to them and pass around the word that any opposing candidates “favor psych drugs” and that is as good as an order “Vote for X.” This happens ALL THE TIME.
The article also mentions Mary Repper. She was HIRED to generate political influence. She ran election campaigns for various politicians in the Tampa Bay Area and was personally courted by David Miscavige (along with Tom DeVocht and me) to bring her on board for that exact reason. The original purpose for hiring the Johnson Pope lawfirm (specifically Ed Armstrong) in downtown Clearwater because of their political lines and allies in the city. Armstrong is at another firm now (Hill Ward Henderson) but still represents scientology. And now his protege Katie Cole is the Chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce. Scientology knows they have to be careful about not violating IRS rules, but these are easy to circumvent. There are also “public” scientologists like Joanie Sigal who coordinate with the Office of Special Affairs and work to infiltrate the local political machinery.
Clearwater, it is time to wake up.
The full article is below:
CLEARWATER — At a recent City Council election debate at City Hall, the first question pitched to the four candidates asked what they think is the biggest problem facing the city right now.
Seat 5 incumbent Hoyt Hamilton answered in code.
“I’m willing to work with anybody, but they have to be open and honest in how they communicate and we haven’t always had that so I think one of the biggest problems trying to move Clearwater forward is getting people to communicate openly and honestly with what we’re trying to do.”
Wait. Who is “they?” Which people are not being honest?
Asked in a later interview if he was referring to the Church of Scientology, which cut communication with city officials last year over a property dispute, Hamilton confirmed he was. So why didn’t he come out and say that?
“I didn’t want to necessarily just go out and poke the bear,” Hamilton said. “To a degree, yes, I’m trying to rebuild the relationship and not make it worse.”
The issue of Scientology’s massive influence on downtown, and uncertainty around its growth plans, has been notably absent from the campaigns of the four candidates running for two citywide seats in the March 13 election. Only addressing it when prompted, the four men have kept their answers vague.
But while the city pushes aggressive initiatives to resurrect its long-struggling downtown, Scientology has simultaneously grown its influence by adding more prime real estate to its portfolio of more than $230 million. At the same time, Scientology officials have cut communication with city staff, leaving them in the dark about the church’s plans for its international spiritual headquarters downtown.
No other church has anywhere close to the same footprint in the city. No other religious organization has its international headquarters downtown. Only Scientology has drawn questions about how its plans could impact the city’s goals for revitalization.
But when moderator Al Ruechel, senior Bay News 9 anchor, asked the single question specifically about Scientology’s role in Clearwater’s future at the Feb. 8 City Hall forum, the candidates kept it vague.
Tom Keller, an advertising salesman running for Seat 4, said he doesn’t know much about Scientology but that the city should “hit the reset button” on the relationship.
“We need to figure a way to co-exist with them and figure out a way to work with them in the future on any project going forward, just sit down with them and see if there’s a way to find some kind of common ground and work together,” Keller said.
David Allbritton, a retired building contractor also running for Seat 4, punted the focus and said all property owners should work together.
“We also have two other big players in Clearwater that nobody seems to mention,” Allbritton said, referring to private property owners and Pinellas County’s real estate holdings. “The only thing you hear about is Scientology and they are buying up all the land, but that’s not really the whole story.”
Hamilton, co-owner of the Palm Pavilion restaurant and inn, reiterated his earlier comment about cooperation and transparency, this time in response to the direct question about Scientology.
“The city and Scientology are the two largest property owners in downtown,” Hamilton said. “We need cooperation with each other and we need to bring in the private property owners as well, because collectively we can sit down and agree upon what we want downtown Clearwater and the final product to be.”
Real estate broker John Funk, who is challenging Hamilton for Seat 5, changed the subject entirely.
“I think there’s been a little bit of a diversion,” Funk said. “A lot of time there’s a focus on Scientology and that’s not the reason some of these properties have not developed.”
Funk pivoted to pitch an idea he has for the city to recruit a developer to convert a 10-acre cluster of privately owned properties along Drew Street into a boutique outlet mall with apartments.
Funk also has received the most support from Scientology parishioners. He landed a public endorsement from businessman and prominent parishioner Pat Clouden last month and was the only candidate to receive a campaign donation from Mary Repper, a former political consultant who has done extensive public relations work for the church.
Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw said Tuesday the church has “hopes and desires for a better Clearwater” but “the church is not involved with or interested in local politics and elections.”
The impact of Scientology’s growth is also rarely brought up in discussions about downtown initiatives to recruit businesses or the rollout of the city’s $55 million waterfront redevelopment plan Imagine Clearwater.
Mayor George Cretekos confirmed city officials have no idea what Scientology plans to do with its recently purchased retail properties or how much more real estate it will buy for its campus. When asked why that variable is not brought up during downtown discussions, he said no church’s plans dictate how the city operates.
“Whether the Church of Scientology, whether the Presbyterian or the Methodist church wants to be involved in helping us with that goal to revitalize downtown to the way the city thinks it should be done and not the individual church, that’s the issue,” he said. “The city is going to stay focused on revitalizing downtown to benefit the entire community.”