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One Fine Mess in Clearwater

The Church of Scientology pitched it's fine reduction request to the City of Clearwater's Municpal Code Enforcement Board. Should the fine be reduced?

On Wednesday the City of Clearwater's Municipal Code Enforcement Board that was levied against the Church of Scientology for failing to follow its orders in 2006.  The Church of Scientology was fined at the rate of $250 per day until a certificate of occupancy was granted.  During the MCEB discussion, the city agreed to waive $32,000 of the fine because in fairness to the Church of Scientology the city needed over 4 months to review revised plans.  During the course of construction the building codes had changed and this required a new plan review.

The Church of Scientology presented a case for reducing the fine to $45,250 by saying that it was noncompliant for only 309 days.  Representatives said it should be liable for only $77,250 in fines, but less the $32,000 concession from the city.  In fact the Church of Scientology was ready to write a check on the spot for $45,250 to consider the whole thing settled right then and there.  The Church of Scientology also said that the Salt Lake Tabernacle took 40 years to build and the National Cathedral took 83 years to build.  Looking at it like that, taking 12 years, 7 months, and 15 days to build a central spiritual house of worship by a church is pretty good.

So, who's at fault and what about the $413,500 fine sitting on the table?  Unfortunately, the city has a precedent of reducing these kinds of fines.  How it ever got to this amount without anyone in city management saying, "pay the bill," or even "pay part of the bill," is amazing.  Usually when most places send statements or invoices there is a follow-up procedure that takes place.  This is done when the statement sender follows-up with a courtesy collection call.  If that doesn't work then, demand letters sent via certified mail usually get attention.  Not to worry though it seems nothing like that was done in this case.  The Internal Revenue Service and the Florida Department of Revenue are two governmental agencies that have really perfected the send statement, then follow-up with collection call model, then take appropriate action.  Oddly, there are probably a million private sector companies that perfected this system also.

The building being discussed is just over three blocks from city hall and almost another three blocks away from the city's Municipal Services Building.  Technically, for that matter it's close to the fire department and the police department too.  So, in theory if you were going from one city building to another city building there is a pretty good chance you would either bump into the building or see it during your travels.

Now, you have to wonder what kind of internal controls are in place.  For example, when the fine reached $50,000 didn't alarm bells go off?  Wouldn't someone say, "hey boss this number looks kind of big, what else should we do?"  After a year had passed, or two years, or heck, three years, ... surely someone would say, "hey supervisor, I keep sending these statements out but the amounts aren't being paid."

So what is going on?  Does the city management not keep track of this?  Is there a loophole in the municipal code that allows sky-high fines but pay as you please payment plans?  What is the magic number before someone says "enough."

This issue was blogged on June 10th, "If You've Got The Time Do You Get The Fine" and a video in that blog says the city will press the Church of Scientology to pay this fine in full.  In fact the reporter in the video said the Church of Scientology intends to pay.

The Church of Scientology was not a good neighbor in this instance.  It could have been clearer that it was building a structure that needed more than the usual time to complete.  Not communicating or sharing intentions is not the way to build a good partnership.  Given the amount of time that this building took to complete, the Church of Scientology could demonstrate good intentions by at least paying $45,250, the amount it says it owes.  If it wishes to contest the remaining amount it is well within its right to do so.  That way it can say it paid obligations on what it thought it owed rather than what it was ordered to pay.

If the city fails to collect this amount then the citizens need to take a good hard look at the leadership, the management, and the ordinances that allowed this to happen.  In the private sector a loss of this amount might be a cause for termination.  This should never have been handled like this.  There is another building in downtown Clearwater that seems to be taking a long time to finish, will this scenario be repeated?  What is the plan?

Contact us to find out more about the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition.  You can comment about this blog below or you can take this to our forum.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pat Harney August 26, 2011 at 08:10 PM
The Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition is dead wrong. The Church of Scientology has been in constant communication with the City of Clearwater on this issue and all of its construction projects in the downtown. In evidence of the fact is an average of 1.3 City inspections daily over the last 5 years as well as numerous meetings and emails on the issue of the fines. The betrayal from the City is complete as they had agreed that we address the landscaping and shell issue with functional compliance and when we get the Certificate of Occupancy, we could meet with the Code Enforcement Board then and request reduction. In fact, that is the only way we could legally address the issue. That is the way other businesses have done this and no-one pays this fine. The memorandum written by Attorney Armstrong on this to the MCEB is very clear and the documents that were submitted in the hearing are proof that the City knew that we had addressed the intent of the citation. On getting the citation from the Code Enforcement Board in 2006, the Church took immediate action to clean up the landscaping to the tune of $300,000 and remove the chain link fence. Note this was a construction site. Additionally, the City of Clearwater is well aware that the renovation of the landmark Oak Cove and Fort Harrison, as well as the two staff apartment complexes and the construction of the 600-car garage were all part of the completion of the Flag Building project. The discrimination is egregious.
shelk August 26, 2011 at 09:24 PM
Am I reading this blog wrong?? Seems the CNC is saying that the Church of Scientology should at least pay the fine they agree they owe ($45,250) and then,if they feel that the larger amount it was unfairly levied, appeal the difference.. The criticism seems to be why the fine was allowed to grow to such an enormous amount without some type of action by the City. Ms Harney....put your arrows back in your quiver ....on this one YOU are wrong.
Pat Harney August 26, 2011 at 10:50 PM
OK. I understand the blog and appreciate that the CNA rep is also making the point that the City should have warned the Church that the tab was running. I also appreciate that the rep is trying to come up with a sane resolution to the situation. It is something to look at but was not offered by the Board. The point in the blog of our neighborliness is at issue. What isn't understood by the CNA is the amount of communication that has been occurring on the issue. Additionally, spending $300,000 to comply to the MCEB order and essentially creating a beautiful landscape and shell on a construction site made absolutely no difference to the Board and is an extreme act of neighborliness. What the City agreed to is that once the C of O was granted, then the issue would be brought before the board for forgiveness as is done in every other instance that these fines have been levied. What isn't also known is that the City's Building Official, Kevin Garriot, agreed that the Church had indeed complied with the intent of the MCEB's order back in 2007 and put that in writing in 2009! Now this ridiculous fine! Why? Good question. The Church could have left the site as it was at the time of the violation and run up that tab and spent the $300,000 on the fine. That is what makes the discriminatory fine so egregious.
ReDress August 26, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Everyone used to live in fear of not totally agreeing with the Church of Scienotology. What I'm most surprised about is that the city slapped this fine on them in the first place. People are afraid of Scientology. Scientology has never been a good neighbor downtown. Everyone feels creeped out when they go to the downtown area. It is also my understanding that Scientologists were sent quarterly bills about the accruing fine. It isn't like they didn't know they were being fined. And it's also the truth that the Scientologists chose to redo two other buildings downtown while they let the Super Power Building just sit there. If Scientologists want to start to be thought of as good neighbors then they should pay the fine. They are not destitute and they knew they were being fined. There's really no excuse for them to not pay.
Pat Harney August 27, 2011 at 12:30 AM
I have been in this City since 1997 and have met and worked with thousands of people, a vast majority of whom are friendly and grateful for the myriad things that Scientologists do to help Clearwater. They have no problem communicating with me or any Scientologist. Downtown Clearwater is a safe and beautiful downtown because of the Church of Scientology. Ask the cops! Thousands of people who are not Scientologists attend the Easter Egg Hunt which is run by Scientologists in Coachman Park every year for the past 18 years. This year had the biggest crowd yet - over 5,000. People only bring their children to areas where they feel safe. Similarly with Winter Wonderland - a 3 week Holiday family festival. I have surveyed hundreds of people about Winter Wonderland and the majority of reasons they come to Winter Wonderland is because it is a safe and beautiful family-friendly area that is unmatched in the Tampa Bay area. At our Holiday Brunch in December 700 people came and thoroughly enjoyed themselves in the beautifully restored Fort Harrison. I know many people who are very grateful for the help that Scientologists have provided - some 300,000 hours of volunteer time every year. The misinformation that the MCEB only reduces fines for the destitute - is just that - misinformation. They have reduced fines in every single case but one (ours) whether rich, poor or in-between. In the meantime, the Church has provided $4.2 million in property taxes in the past 5 years alone.
ReDress August 27, 2011 at 01:08 AM
I have news for you, Miss Harney. People are afraid of you. Everyone is creeped out and refuses to go downtown. I think you're lying when you say that 700 people who aren't Scientologists attended a brunch you held in December. I'd have to see proof of that because I have lived in this area for a lot longer than you have and those of us who aren't scared to death of Scientologists pretty much will tell you that they hate Scientology. Those that are not scared and who don't hate you believe you're a joke. I really don't care what they say to you when they are face-to-face with you. I'm more interested in what they say when they are completely away from you and other Scientologists. If you can truly tell me that you have no clue that people don't like Scientologists then you are delusional. The cops don't like you either. They tolerate you. The few that I know can't stand you because they feel their hands are tied in addressing the wrongs that they see going on under their very noses. And I have been by your Easter Egg hunt a few times over the years I've lived here and there aren't very many people that attend that either. I'd have to see actual pictures of that to show proof instead of your just saying that there were hundreds of people there because I didn't go by your Easter Egg hunt this year. Most Christians in the Clearwater area are more aware of Scientology than you think. Most Christians know what Hubbard teaches about all religions.
ReDress August 27, 2011 at 01:14 AM
Scientology should pay the fine. The church chose to let this go for years and years. You all ignored all of the fine notices and just let this go on. You redid two other buildings and let the Super Power Building sit like an eyesore. Just pay the fine. You can see that all of the city commissioners were not happy with you, correct? You can tell from the replies you are reading in all these comment sections that everyone wants you to pay the fine. Just pay the fine.
Pat Harney August 27, 2011 at 03:13 AM
Anyone is welcome to log on to www.clearwatercommunityvolunteers.org and see the pictures of the Easter Egg Hunt, Fashions with Flair and Winter Wonderland. You will also note the leading men and women of Tampa Bay who have participated in our charity functions at the Fort Harrison. You are also welcome to meet with me and I'll show you photos of the Holiday Brunch at the Fort Harrison in December of 2010 as well as Harlem Nights, The Sunscreen Film Festival fundraiser and many other events that have been held at the Fort Harrison for the community. I will even tour you through the Fort Harrison and show you some more of the activities we have been involved in communities all over the world. I have worked with many good Christians inside and outside of this community so I am quite surprised that you would bring up Christians in this conversation in the fashion in which you have.
ReDress August 27, 2011 at 03:47 AM
Miss Harney, if you don't like someone or if you fear someone and you still have to work with them and around them do you tell them how you feel? I would think you would have enough manners to not tell them how you feel. That's what you've faced. Of course these people are going to be nice to your face, but when they are not around you they feel the same way the rest of us do here in Clearwater. Think about why all of these Christians don't come to your defense whenever there is an article saying derogatory things about your church. They do not rush to your defense. They stay silent. Have you looked at the code enforcement meeting and really looked at the faces of the code enforcement members? These people are pillars of our society who work tirelessly in a thankless job. The management of your church treated those people and the previous code enforcement members with no respect. I will thank you for your offer of meeting me and showing me pictures and giving me a tour, but I'm scared of Scientologists. I don't know anyone that would come with me to meet with you and I would never come alone. Please don't take personal offense to this, but I'm not going to respond to anything else that you post because you're not going to change my mind and I'm afraid I'll accidentally write something that might lead you to know who I am. I would never want Scientologists to know who I am. All the best to you, Miss Harney.
Local August 27, 2011 at 08:13 AM
For the record, Pat Harney is the official Scientology head of PR for Clearwater. This is her trying to handle you. Doesn't look like it's working, Harney.
Pat Harney August 27, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Thank you my good Christian friends. You know who I am and the invitation remains open.
D August 28, 2011 at 08:46 AM
I'm not Christian, I'm athiest, and I just moved from Clearwater. Regardless of whether people 'like you' or not, the fact remains that to an outside observer Clearwater looks like a bombed-out evacuation zone with odd podlike people walking in tight groups. I've seen one bar after another close down and not get replaced; same with coffee shops and restaurants. Clothing stores. Pharmacies. Everything gone, the buildings are empty, except for that one spot around the big hotel - and there is a truly creepy vibe going on there. I truly don't know whose fault all of this is. But I do know this. Whatever strategy y'all Scientologists are using to be good neighbors, it needs re-evaluating.
D August 28, 2011 at 08:58 AM
Actually, if a cash infusion like the one that fine represents will get used to revitalize the town center, I'd say it'd be an investment worth making for the church of scientology regardless of the fact that it's a city-mandated fee. The blight that is Clearwater has to be very poor public relations for scientologists nationwide; driving away potential membership, an embarrassment that weakens the Church's position whenever they need to defend their faith legally or in the court of public appeal... it's just bad business to not work as closely with the city as possible to revitalize downtown. (P.S., that doesn't mean BUY downtown. America is pushing for more small businesses for a very sound reason: they work. So using the church's leverage in a way that supports all businesses freely, not just those of church members, will probably result in more membership and church revenue overall.)
Pat Harney August 28, 2011 at 06:21 PM
I would like to extend the invitation to "D" as well to visit me at the Church and I will be happy to relate to you all that the Church and the thousands of Clearwater Scientologists are doing to contribute to the quality of life for all Clearwater residents . Examples: The Church paid $4.2 million in property taxes in the past 5 years; a 2007 economic impact study by Dr. John Qualls of Micro Economics Ltd. on Scientology's impact in Clearwater found at that time that 11,778 jobs depended on the Church's presence which amounted to 6.5% of the Clearwater area employment in 2006. Looking at it in another way: the July 2007 unemployment rate for the greater Clearwater metro area was estimated at 3.3% by US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Had the Church not been in operation, the unemployment rate for the metro area would have instead been 7.2%. The Church employed over 400 local construction workers for the Flag Building construction just on site alone over the past 2 and a half years alone; and just this year, the City employed TIP Strategies Inc. from Texas to give them an idea of how to run the City. Here is what the project director said in response to a question about the Church's impact in Clearwater : "Some of the most dynamic and innovative businesses that we met with over the course of this process are here directly as related to the Church of Scientology. Their followers came to Clearwater to be closer to the Church. So in that respect it is a tremendous positive."
Heber Jenszch August 28, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Pay the fine and wake up to the fact that you are a shrinking cult with no future. LRH's dream of "clearing the planet" will never happen, and even the highest executives have quit in disgust. More than 1500 ex-members have spoken out against the disgusting practices that Scientology regularly get up to, and one of its most senior executives is currently up on charges in Australia of covering up child abuse within the cult. You should be ashamed to be a scientologist. Clearwater's intention to fine you proves that your grip on the town is weakening, and this can only be a good thing. I only wonder how long before the US government goes in with guns drawn and arrests David Miscavige and those who run what's left of his shrinking mafia-style operation.
Pat Harney August 28, 2011 at 08:14 PM
Give me a break! I see where this is going. I thought the discussion could be rational. If this is going to be used as a forum for religion-bashing by apostates and/or "Anonymous" maskers (who steal other people's names for their user titles as the last writer did), I just opted out.
Local August 28, 2011 at 08:33 PM
I'm incredibly familiar with Clearwater, Pat. I don't need a tour of your facilities or whatever. I've seen them. And not as an "apostate," as if that would make our complaints less valid. It's pretty hard to convince people that Scientology and Clearwater are best friends and have each other's best interests at heart and all Scientology really wants is for us all to get along when those people actually live here and are familiar with all your garbage.
Heber Jenszch August 28, 2011 at 08:37 PM
"apostates" You mean people who spent 20 or 30 years with the cult at the very highest levels, who have seen all the crimes, all the beatings dished out by Miscavige, even LRH's own children. If Scientology is so good, how come there are so many people quitting and speaking out about it? And don't pretend it's a religion - it isn't, even LRH himself stated that it wasn't a religion. Why don't you want to speak about Jan Eastgate? Worried that regular Scientologists might read this? Here's a clue - they will. They will use the internet to see through the hilarious lies told by Tommy Davis (where is he these days?) and time is running out, no new recruits and no new money means the cults days are numbered. You should quit while you can, Pat.
Local August 28, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Heber should tell the nice readers about dear Jan Eastgate...
Heber Jenszch August 29, 2011 at 01:15 AM
I think readers should definitely know about one of the most senior people in the cult, arrested and facing trial in her native Australia for covering up child abuse and still facing judgement. www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEohygNzJbk This particular child was 7 years old and endured 4 years of sexual abuse that Jan Eastgate is accused of knowing about and covering up). What is disgusting is that Scientologists believe that kids that get raped by other Scientologists actually deserve it, for crimes committed in a previous life. This is the future for Clearwater if the cult has its way.
Henry Kulesza December 13, 2012 at 07:13 PM
If I were building a home and left it unfinished, I just wondering how long the city would tolerate my not paying the levied fines.

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