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The group is unhappy that Clearwater has not resolved a dispute over legal fees in a successful fight against the city.
CLEARWATER — Mayor Rita Garvey, City Commissioner Fred Thomas and others are singled out for criticism in the latest edition of Freedom, a tabloid newspaper published periodically by the Church of Scientology.
The organization is delivering the 12-page publication this week to about 100,000 residences in Clearwater, Largo, Dunedin and Palm Harbor. The new edition also criticizes the St. Petersburg Times and the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
In a two-page spread, Clearwater officials are taken to task for failing to settle Scientology's demand for $1.5-million it says it spent in legal fees fighting a city ordinance that was overturned last year.
The ordinance, which never was enforced because of the court fight, required religious groups and other charitable organizations to keep records on their solicitations and opened the way for city investigations.
The city and Scientology are in discussions with a mediator about the legal fees.
Scientology officials say they use Freedom to publicize issues involving Scientology that are not covered in other media.
The current edition accuses Thomas and Garvey of discriminating against the group.
It says Thomas improperly engineered an effort to get work stopped on a former downtown bank building the church is renovating.
It also criticizes Thomas and Garvey for leading opposition to a church request in February to close N Fort Harrison Avenue for several hours during a church event.
"The message which is lost on them is that their program of discrimination can only lead back down the same dead-end road which has landed the city with a potential seven-figure debt." the publication says.
"The cost to the community goes beyond just dollars — it injures community spirit, that very spirit that people of goodwill are striving to reconstruct in Clearwater."
Thomas and Garvey said Wednesday that they voted against the street closing because they didn't think it was fair to the thousands of motorists who use N Fort Harrison Avenue.
Asked about the legal fight over the ordinance, Garvey responded: "If you have nothing to hide there is no reason to fight the ordinance."
Asked whether he practiced religious discrimination against Scientology, Thomas said: "I don't believe they're a religion. . . . Their lawyers have just out-smarted the IRS is all. I view them as a very successful business that doesn't pay taxes."
Thomas said he received a call from a downtown businessman that Scientology's renovation project on the bank had taken up more of a side street than was allowed. He said he referred the matter to City Manager Betty Deptula, who delegated it to the engineering department.
"A commissioner is supposed to follow up on complaints," Thomas said.
City officials said they also received other complaints about the project. They said the city issued an order for the church to stop work, but the order expired after church officials agreed to take steps to improve the work site.
Freedom's version of events was that Thomas issued orders to city employees other than Deptula (a violation of the city charter) and "seized on this as an excuse to pull the plug on the renovation project."
It says the city inspected the site more than it did other building sites not related to Scientology.
Elsewhere in the publication, the Times is criticized as being unfair in its coverage of Scientology. It pointed to a recent Times article that adapted information from a Wall Street Journal story about how Scientology-based management techniques found their way into training programs at Allstate Insurance Co.
Unlike the Journal piece, the Times included responses from high-ranking church officials.
The publication also questions the Times ' hiring and promotion policies for minorities and women.
Another article criticizes HRS, comparing it to the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. It says the agency has destroyed families with the help of psychiatrists. Scientology has long been a critic of psychiatry.
Susan Lerman, a local HRS spokeswoman, called the article inflammatory and characteristic of previous Scientology attacks on the agency.
"We do not have an investigative staff that goes out with the intent of scooping children away from families." she said.