Check out the Church of Scientology's latest glossy Freedom magazine, and you'll see some advice for the city of Clearwater from former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.
The message, conveyed in a two-page spread with Greco's likeness and byline: Team up with Scientology.
"There are two major partners — the City and the Church — that can make a plan that will carry the city to prosperity for decades to come," according to a guest column labeled "by former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco."
When Freedom hit Clearwater City Hall a couple weeks back, that column raised a few eyebrows.
"I was a little surprised that he would have written that without at least alerting me," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who counts Greco as "a friend and an outstanding leader in the Tampa Bay area."
But on Monday, Greco said he didn't write the column, a first-person essay that talks about "my years as mayor" and "what I'd tell any city."
"No, no, no, John Sugg wrote it," said Greco, 81, Tampa's mayor from 1967 to 1974, and 1995 to 2003. "I can't write."
Greco said Sugg, a Freedom editor he has long known from Sugg's days at the Tampa Tribune, interviewed him and wrote what he said. He saw an advance copy and didn't have any problems with it. He scarcely has looked at the magazine since. He said he was not paid for his contribution to the magazine.
"No question," Greco acknowledged, Scientology is controversial — but so are a lot of other groups, he said, and it's important to respect others across religious differences.
"As long as they're not hurtful to our country or that kind of stuff, I don't think it's right to be condemning of something we don't know a whole lot about," he said.
Asked why Greco was named as the author if he didn't write the column, Sugg simply said, "Whatever's in the magazine speaks for itself." Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney did not return a call for comment.
In an interview Monday with the Tampa Bay Times, Greco repeated and elaborated on much of what the column says:
• That after he left the mayor's office in 2003, some Scientologist friends asked him to look at the future of downtown Clearwater. At one point they raised the idea of hiring him to work on downtown plans, he said, but he was interested in other opportunities.
• That he spoke at a gala at Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel several years ago.
• That he's impressed with Scientology construction projects in Clearwater and renovations of church properties in West Tampa and Ybor City.
• That he likes Scientology's anti-drug stance.
• That he has "met a lot of their movie star types," and at a dinner party once got a demonstration of an e-meter from actor Kelly Preston, who is married to John Travolta.
• That he thinks it makes sense for Clearwater officials and Scientology to cooperate.
"When you have that significant a group in your city, with the real estate that they own … it would be best to come together for the betterment of everyone," he said.
In June, a similar recommendation for better communication between Scientology and Clearwater came from a panel of seven urban planning experts with the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, which had studied the city's downtown.
Back then, Cretekos said city officials were open to more communication but that he had gotten the sense that Scientology leaders thought he didn't want to work with them, which he said is not the case.
In an interview late last week, he made much the same point.
"The city and the church have been communicating better than we have in the past, but it is a two-way street," he said.
Monday, Cretekos said it's now clear why he didn't get a courtesy call from Greco in advance of the column.
"If he didn't write it," Cretekos said, "he wouldn't know to tell me about it."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.