Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Clearwater

Scientologists win majority on downtown Clearwater board

The results are believed to be the first time the church has had a majority presence on an elected city body.
A Church of Scientology staff member, left, crosses Cleveland Street while Miami tourists Elena Norma, left, and Martha Suarez, center, explore downtown on May 4 2017. A majority of candidates associated with the Church of Scientology were elected to the Downtown Development Board on Tuesday, a body tasked with setting culture and promoting downtown. The church established its international spiritual headquarters downtown in 1975 and is the largest property owner. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 8
Updated Oct. 10

Click here to read this story in Spanish

CLEARWATER — Downtown property owners made history on Tuesday by electing a majority of people associated with the Church of Scientology onto the Downtown Development Board.

The results are believed to be the first time the church has had a majority presence on an elected city body.

Although the development board has limited power — it cannot pass ordinances or hire and fire staff — it uses $267,000 in revenues from a special tax assessed on property owners within district boundaries to fund events, market downtown and attract new businesses.

As the largest property owner downtown, the role the Church of Scientology will play in revitalization efforts has been unclear as church leadership has not shared its long-term plans for its campus with the city.

“Unfortunately the board will have to prove itself because there are going to be people that are going to believe that it will be under the control of the church,” said City Manager Bill Horne. “I don’t believe that’s the case but ... the board clearly has a non-church related purpose, and it ought to demonstrate that every day in all its dealings.”

On Tuesday, property owner Shahab Emrani, Buzzazz Business Solutions owner Keanan Kintzel and One Stoppe Shoppe owner Paris Morfopoulos were the three top vote-getters in the race for three open seats on the volunteer board. Joining sitting board member and real estate agent Ray Cassano, four of the seven development board officials will now be associated with the church when they take office in January.

Shahab Emrani, new member of the Clearwater Downtown Development Board. [City of Clearwater]

The three beat out candidates Edmon Rakipi and Festus Porbeni, who are not members of the church.

Only 232 out of 375 eligible ballots were cast on Tuesday, according to Anne Lopez, a specialist in the Community Redevelopment Agency, which oversees the board.

There are 905 properties within the boundaries of the board, a jigsaw shaped district that snakes around downtown. But representatives for 402 properties did not fill out voter registration cards and 128 parcels are not counted because they are owned by the government or are fully tax exempt.

While 72 percent of the 60 properties Scientology owns in Pinellas County are tax exempt for religious purposes, the church had 18 votes for properties it owns within the development board’s boundaries that are partially or fully subject to taxes.

Keanan Kintzel, new member of the Clearwater Downtown Development Board [City of Clearwater]


The results, according to Lopez, where each voter was able to select up to three candidates, were: Morfopoulos received 146 votes, Kintzel had 126 and Emrani got 124 votes. Porbeni and Rakipi received 98 and 97 votes, respectively. There were also three write-in candidates: Taylor Precourt got 58 votes, while Mike Sutton and Adam Kapinski each got one vote.

Emrani, Kintzel and Morfopoulos did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw also did not respond to a request for comment.

Paris Morfopoulos, who was re-elected to the Clearwater Downtown Development Board [City of Clearwater]

Policies written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard detail, at length, a disdain for government and the desire for Scientology to influence society. One policy letter in 1960 that created a Department of Government Affairs stated the goal was “to bring the government and hostile philosophies or societies into a state of complete compliance with the goals of Scientology."

Scientology established its international spiritual headquarters downtown in 1975 and immediately deployed a scheme to “establish area control," according to internal memos uncovered by the FBI in 1977. The plot included plans to infiltrate dozens of local government and civic offices; the successful planting of spies in the Chamber of Commerce, State Attorney’s Office and Clearwater Sun newspaper; and the formation of enemies lists.

The Downtown Development Board made it on a list of offices that “that have attacked Scn in any fashion, or would have any interest in Scn for any reason.”


ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Scientology’s international spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater is anchored by the Flag Building, on left. An elevated walkway connects the building to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the church’s first purchase in the city in 1975. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The mysterious deals could reshape downtown Clearwater.
  2. Clearwater City Council members react to Tampa Bay Times reporting showing companies tied to members of Scientology bought 101 acres of downtown commercial property in three years. Times  |   (2017)
    We showed the politicians a map of the land now owned by buyers tied to Scientology. Here’s what they said.
  3. About 400 demonstrators protest the Church of Scientology in front of City Hall in April 1980. The church has a complicated history with the city, from its secret arrival in 1975 to its recent flood of downtown property purchases. PIERSON, DAVE  |  St. Petersburg Times
    The church arrived in secret in 1975. Here’s what happened next.
  4. The Flag Building on N Ft Harrison Avenue is Scientology's largest building. The church owns 60 properties in Pinellas County under its name, 72 percent of which are tax exempt. The church bought six retail properties under LLCs in 2017 for a redevelopment plan.
    The church has amassed 60 properties in Pinellas County since arriving in 1975.
  5. Fin is Pinellas County's Pet of the Week. Friends of Strays Animal Shelter
    The 4-year-old mixed breed is available for adoption at Friends of Strays Animal Shelter
  6. A semi-trailer truck fell onto an SUV on Interstate 4 on Friday night after a reported tornado touched down and crossed the highway near Lakeland. No one was injured. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    A tornado caused damage and power loss but no injuries in Pinellas County. In Polk County, I-4 drivers were fortunate no one was injured when another tornado crosses the interstate.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The 63-year-old crossing guard was hospitalized, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. The Whole Coffee Company makes Dunkin’-branded Coffee Thins as well as Tim Hortons Double Double bars and its own Whole Coffee Company-branded nudge coffee bars. (Photo courtesy The Whole Coffee Company) The Whole Coffee Company
    The Whole Coffee Company, which is based in Miami, was previously known as Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa. ProspEquity Partners of Tampa owns a majority stake in Whole Coffee.
  9. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a three-vehicle crash that took place in Palm Harbor along Tampa Road just west of Lake St. George Drive. A 43-year-old woman was killed in the crash. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    A 43-year-old woman died from her injuries. The cause of the crash is still being investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol.
  10. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs, at 230 Grand Blvd., has reopened to the public following a six-year restoration effort that started as a sinkhole repair in 2013. Jeff  Rosenfield
    The Unitiarian Universalist Church opens to the public after a six-year restoration project.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement