Friday, May 25, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Clearwater officials should not surrender to Church of Scientology

Clearwater City Council members meekly capitulated last week to Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, answering his summons to private meetings at Scientology's command center to discuss its continued takeover of downtown. That was demeaning and disrespectful to Clearwater residents, who still have not heard directly from Miscavige about his latest scheme. Scientology should come out of the shadows, and public officials should remember they represent the public and no one else.

One by one, Mayor George Cretekos and other City Council members trooped to Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel to privately meet with Miscavige and hear his pitch. They circumvented public meetings requirements by meeting one at a time, and only City Council member Doreen Caudell had the good sense to reconsider and decline the invitation. Some who did go, including Cretekos and City Council member Hoyt Hamilton, went out of their way to be nice after their audiences with Miscavige and his consultants. Either Miscavige has had an epiphany, or city officials have decided to overlook Scientology's four decades of deceit and disingenuous dealings and are preparing to surrender.

All Clearwater residents know is what city officials recounted after their meetings. The Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus reported Scientology is focused on recruiting businesses to Cleveland Street rather than controlling every downtown block they don't already own. Miscavige suggested Scientology might pay for all of the facade redesign along Cleveland Street. And there apparently were some lovely renderings and video simulations.

Yet the public remains in the dark, and its elected officials should not be fooled by a slick sales pitch and Miscavige's new eagerness to collaborate. Remember Scientology bought more than $26 million in downtown properties earlier this year after Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor says he was assured by Miscavige in October that the church's plan did not include buying more property. Remember Scientology already has accumulated more than $260 million in real estate and is downtown's largest property owner. Remember Scientology already controls at least half of some 40 storefronts along a key stretch of Cleveland Street either directly or through its parishioners and Scientology-owned businesses that rent space. And remember what Miscavige really wants.

What Scientology really wants is a 1.4-acre downtown lot adjacent to Clearwater City Hall and one of its buildings. That lot had been bought by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for a project that fizzled, and the aquarium has agreed to sell it to the city. Unfortunately, a paperwork glitch delayed the City Council's vote on the purchase until next month — handing Miscavige more time to apply more pressure. It's hardly surprising he has suggested to city officials that Scientology's interest in renovating Cleveland Street and building a new entertainment complex hinges on the church acquiring the aquarium lot.

Instead of standing up to Scientology, city officials are scrambling to defend their willingness to cooperate with the largest contributor to downtown Clearwater's demise. City Manager Bill Horne initially suggested he was willing to let Scientology lead on downtown redevelopment, then backtracked and acknowledged the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency should lead. Cretekos absurdly claimed he sees no difference between Scientology and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who is redeveloping 40 acres in downtown Tampa. There is no comparison in reputation, track record or transparency. Vinik unveiled his plans at a big public event in 2014. With Scientology, it's nothing but secret meetings and veiled threats.

City officials still have time to find their backbones. They should vote to buy the aquarium lot next month, then combine that lot with the City Hall site for redevelopment. They should carry out their $55 million plan to redo the downtown waterfront. And they should stop meeting secretly with Miscavige and treating Scientology like a newfound savior.

Comments
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Itís human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

One of the worst ideas in a long time in the field of urban planning received a blessing this month when the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a land-use change for a project that calls for filling three acres of water insi...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Send out an Amber Alert for Adam Putnam. The red-haired, affable fellow who has served capably as a state legislator, member of Congress and agriculture commissioner is missing. In his place is a far-right caricature who has branded himself as a prou...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Floridians are paying a steep price for a system that makes it as difficult as possible for people who leave prison to reintegrate into civic life. Gov. Rick Scottís clemency process isnít just archaic and cruel ó it also wastes enormous public resou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Regardless of the reason, the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit to address Pyonyangís nuclear program is hardly the worst possible outcome of this high-stakes diplomatic gamble. President Donald Trump was unprepared, North Koreaís Kim Jong ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18

NFL kneels before the altar of profits

The owners of the 32 National Football League teams sent a wrongheaded and, frankly, un-American message to their players Wednesday: Expressing your opinion during the national anthem is no longer permitted."A club will be fined by the League if its ...
Published: 05/24/18

Editorial: A positive first step in ensuring student access at USFSP

As a task force sorts out countless details involved in folding the University of South Florida St. Petersburg back into the major research university based in Tampa, ensuring access for good Pinellas students remains a concern. An enhanced cooperati...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

The rising tensions with Iran, the resurgence of violence in the Mideast and the uncertainty over a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea combine to create an unsettling time this Memorial Day. These grave threats to peace are another reminder of...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18