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Scientology leader, Clearwater official meet face to face

It is a rare occasion when the Church of Scientology's worldwide leader meets with city officials.

But City Manager Mike Roberto has spoken with David Miscavige twice in one month, including a four-hour meeting Monday in which the two men discussed the church's downtown expansion plans and the recent flare-ups that led to tensions between the city and Scientology.

Monday's meeting took place at Scientology's Clearwater Building, 500 Cleveland St. The previous meeting took place the first week of April at the Fort Harrison Hotel, the church's landmark retreat.

According to Roberto, he and Miscavige discussed:

+ The church's planned 300,000-square-foot office and counseling building, which would be one of the larger office buildings in Pinellas County.

+ Some of the history of Scientology in Clearwater _ from the church's controversial arrival in 1975 to the hostility that flared up in December when church officials demanded an investigation into the city Police Department, threatened legal action and orchestrated a protest march around police headquarters by an estimated 3,000 Scientologists.

+ Details about Scientology's teachings and organizational structure.

Roberto, who became city manager in June, said he knew little about the church. He said the meeting was an occasion "to get to know them more."

He added: "I think it was important for them to explain and articulate what some of their concerns were. . . . There has to be a resolution somewhere and it has to come from both sides."

Miscavige, who oversees the church from its administrative offices in Los Angeles, often visits Scientology's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater.

He was in his late 20s when he became the church's leader after Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986. Despite his high profile inside the church, he is rarely seen by the non-Scientology public.

His last media interview was thought to be in 1992 with ABC's Ted Koppel during a special Nightline broadcast.

Brian Anderson, the church's spokesman in Clearwater, said Miscavige was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for an interview with the Times.

Roberto said he told Miscavige it was "completely unacceptable" for Scientologists "to be out there protesting against the city of Clearwater" in December.

As for the church's demands for an investigation into the Police Department, Roberto said he told Miscavige: "Until someone produces some piece of information . . . of us doing something illegal, I have nothing to go on."

Church officials had alleged that Clearwater police failed over the years to seriously investigate crimes against Scientologists and that the department had improperly favored critics of the church.

He said Miscavige made the point that no Scientologist had ever been arrested in Clearwater despite two decades of investigative effort by the police.

According to Roberto, Miscavige did not discuss the case of Lisa McPherson, the 36-year-old Scientologist who died in 1995 after spending 17 days at the Fort Harrison. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe is trying to decide whether criminal charges are warranted in the death.

Roberto said he also has had lengthy meetings with leaders of Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church and Calvary Baptist Church about their roles in downtown redevelopment.

He said he learned in the meeting with Miscavige that the Fort Harrison Hotel, after years of being partly tax-exempt because of the church's non-profit status, will be 100 percent taxable after the new building opens. That's because offices in the hotel now used for church counseling will be moved to the new building.

He said church officials told him they are planning no new property acquisitions in Clearwater at present.

Roberto said the meetings are necessary because the church will play a role in the city's downtown redevelopment effort and because there are several issues concerning the new building that he and his staff need to discuss.