Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater board says Scientology violated sign laws

CLEARWATER— A wrap that until Tuesday covered a massive Church of Scientology tent downtown violated the city's sign laws, a municipal board ruled Wednesday.

The Code Enforcement Board also said if the church places other illegal wraps around the 150,000-square-foot tent that it could be fined $500 a day as a repeat offender. No fine was imposed Wednesday.

The church removed the controversial wrap Tuesday, prompting city officials to wonder if the church planned to attach other wraps for celebrations later this year.

"That may very well be the case," said Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing the church. But Armstrong and church representative Sarah Heller declined to confirm whether more wraps were in the works.

Instead, the church argued that the wrap wasn't a sign, but art albeit intended only for its own members.

Board member Mike Riordon asked why the church didn't seek the city's permission or feedback before putting it up.

"How is it that you think people in general would really believe that you didn't know there would be an issue with this?" Riordon asked Heller.

"If we'd considered it a sign, we absolutely would have come in for a permit," Heller responded.

Armstrong and fellow attorney Gina Grimes said the city's actions infringed on religious freedom, risked violating federal laws protecting that freedom and showed faulty interpretations of its own ordinances.

A city attorney said the issue wasn't about art or religion, but signs.

"We are simply asking that they follow the rules just as any other good corporate citizen, religious citizen or even just a regular plain Jane or Joe Citizen would do," said Camilo A. Soto, assistant city attorney.

The purpose of the multi-colored wrap that included the phrase "Golden Age of Tech" and an acronym for "Keeping Scientology Working" was aesthetic and religious, Heller said.

"They have meanings for Scientologists and to make it look prettier," Heller said.

The board ruled 6-1 that the church had violated the city's sign code.

James E. Strickland, the board's vice-chairman, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Church attorneys said at the outset that they didn't think the board would give the church a fair hearing because of comments made to the Tampa Bay Times by board chairman Duane Schultz. He was quoted in Wednesday's newspaper saying he wished the church would be a better "team player."

Schultz offered to abstain from voting, saying later that he feared saddling the city with legal fees if the vote went against the church. But Armstrong said he was satisfied he would keep an open mind.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

Comments
St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

ST. PETERSBURG — Beef jerky, mayonnaise and Altoids mints were the only edible things in view inside one of the houses. There was no running water. The refrigerator was empty. A bed sat on top of the deteriorating living room floor. Cigarette butts b...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 19

Thursday’s scoreboardBaseballDixie Hollins 8, Canterbury 0Northeast 13, Lakewood 3Calvary Christian 5, Berkeley Prep 2
Updated: 3 hours ago
Firefighters battle apartment complex fire in Tampa

Firefighters battle apartment complex fire in Tampa

TAMPA — Firefighters were battling a blaze at Captiva Club Apartments on Thursday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.According to video taken at the scene, the roof of one of the apartment buildings at 4401 Club Captiva Dr. ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Two Florida deputies shot, killed at restaurant in Gilchrist County

Two Florida deputies shot, killed at restaurant in Gilchrist County

Two Gilchrist County sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed at a restaurant about 3 p.m. Thursday.The deputies were at Ace China restaurant in downtown Trenton when a man shot them through the restaurant’s window, a Sheriff’s Office statement said.A...
Updated: 4 hours ago
The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

ST. PETERSBURG — Development of the city’s long-awaited pier advanced another step Thursday.The City Council approved a $15 million construction contract and additional money to design a waterside restaurant, build a playground and ferret out naming ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Out early: Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Out early: Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions.The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 at...
Updated: 5 hours ago
FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275

FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275

ST. PETERSBURG — A distracted driver walked away unscathed after his car plunged 50 feet off Interstate 275, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Thomas Highhouse, 61, of Pinellas Park, was driving his 2016 Chevrolet Camaro south on Interstate 275...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is a finalist for the second consecutive year for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league. The other two finalists are Drew Doughty of the Kings and P.K. Subban of the Predators, it was announced Thu...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

LARGO — Detectives are seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who broke into a home early Thursday morning and confronted the owners with a knife.The incident took place about 3:40 a.m. at a townhouse at 7360 Ulmerton Road, according to Largo...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Deputies: Man broke into house, set it on fire and stole their dog

Deputies: Man broke into house, set it on fire and stole their dog

SEMINOLE — A Seminole man was arrested on allegations that he burglarized a home, set it on fire and stole the homeowner’s dog, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Austin Lang, 19, now faces numerous charges of burglary, arson and poss...
Updated: 6 hours ago