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St. Petersburg Times

December 7, 1979

Commission plans action against Scientologists

by Deborah Blum

CLEARWATER – Clearwater city commissioners set out Thursday to show alarmed citizens that government – not the Church of Scientology – is running the city.

In the wake of the current outrage over reports that the Scientologists have been trying to "control Clearwater," the commissioners repeated earlier calls for a federal investigation of the organization.

They also approved a resolution to let Pinellas County officials know that Clearwater is willing to join in any legal action to make the church pay taxes.

In addition, Commissioner Richard Tenney called for a second anti-Scientology rally at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, in Jack Russell Stadium. A rally in downtown Clearwater last Saturday drew a crowd of 3,000.

Tenney added that he visited U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill Thursday morning to lobby for an in-depth congressional investigation of the Scientologists. He said O’Neill, who is in town for the JC Penney Golf Classic, seemed very interested.

Commissioner William Nunamaker said that Florida Attorney General Jim Smith has agreed to attend a town meeting in Clearwater, to discuss the Scientology situation. Nunamaker said the meeting will probably be in January. He plans to also invite several members of Florida’s congressional delegation as well.

In addition, the commission voted:

· To send city staffers to Washington to acquire all Scientology documents relative to Clearwater in church files recently released by a federal court. The documents were made public after nine Scientologists pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal from the federal government and obstruct justice.

· To send to county and state officials a proposed bill to limit strictly all religious tax exemptions drafted by city attorney Tom Bustin. The commission refused to endorse the bill in October because several local ministers objected. But Thursday’s endorsement was unanimous.

· To instruct Bustin to contact other states about laws charging religious institutions service fees for such things as police and fire protection.

· To write the National Congress of Cities and ask for that organization’s help in pushing a congressional investigation of the Scientologists.

The church began acquiring property in Clearwater in 1975 and now owns buildings, assessed at $7 million. Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, is a method of identifying and treating hostilities.

Since the organization’s arrival, government officials have been concerned about the strength of the local movement and the city’s eroding tax base as a result.

Clearwater has in the past approved resolutions calling for a congressional investigation and repeatedly offered the county officials aid in their tax battles with the church.

Pinellas county tax officials have been battling the church in court since 1976 over its refusal to pay taxes. The county has refused the church a religious exemption because Scientologists will not open their financial records.

County tax appraiser Ron Schultz appeared before the commission Thursday morning, saying he will fight "any attempt to use my office as a vendetta against any group."

He asked the commissioners not to interfere in the county’s current lawsuit, which is now before the Florida Supreme Court.

The commissioners assured him that they were only offering support in this lawsuit and any further legal action that might be necessary and that they plan to stay strictly within legal confines themselves.

"Whatever action we take will be under the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, and our own city charter," Commissioner Karleen De Blaker said. "We certainly do not want to create any mass hysteria. I would never subscribe to that."

Mayor Charles LeCher praised Tenney for raising the city’s consciousness concerning the Scientology problem. But he stressed that "what we need now is a period of calm, a time to give the laws a chance to work."