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Scientologists get 'stay away' message from Tarpon Springs

Title: Scientologists get 'stay away' message from Tarpon Springs
Date: Thursday, 4 September 1980
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Authors: Gary McElroy, Craig Roberton
Main source:

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CLEARWATER — The Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce and Scientology critic Alex Cornell have taken separate shots at the Church of Scientology — with differing results.

On Tuesday, the Tarpon Chamber board pared a resolution asking the church to kindly stay out of its city. On Wednesday, Cornell continued to urge motorists passing the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel, 201 S Fort Harrison Ave., to show their displeasure with Scientology by honking their horns.

The Chamber resolution was greeted with airy indifference by a church spokesman. Cornell's demonstration resulted in din of honking and his second arrest for disturbing the peace in as many days.

"HONK THE HOTEL day and night," read posters held by Cornell and 19-year-old Debbie Scussel outside the church headquarters. After 45 minutes of nerve-rattling horn-honking, two Clearwater police officers confiscated the posters and then arrested Cornell because he continued to shout, "Honk the horn!" at passing cars.

The day before, Cornell was arrested because he refused to voluntarily relinquish his sign when asked for it by police. He contends the arrests violate his constitutionnal right to free speech. Authorities based the arrests on a city ordinance making it a misdemeanor to create a disturbance by, among other things, honking car horns. The ordinance carries a $27 fine.

The din of blaring horns encouraged by Cornell did not reach as far as Tarpon Springs, but the controversy surrounding the church has not spared that city.

TUESDAY'S RESOLUTION, posed by the Chamber's board of directors, described the Church of Scientology as "harmful."

". . . the actions and activities of the Scientologist organization now based in Clearwater, Fla. are harmful to Clearwater, as well as Tarpon Springs, and the entire county of Pinellas," the resolution said.

The Clearwater Chamber of Commerce passed a similar resolution last year and urged sister cities in the county to come out against the church.

"We would like to discourage them from coming to our area," said Chamber Executive Vice President Marge Stafford."It is a very important issue.

"IT CERTAINLY involves the whole Suncoast and has become a national issue," she continued. "It (the church) is bad for business. It has proved that in Clearwater."

The resolution based its decision on the "investigations of the Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce and the conclusions therein derived."

Milt Wolfe, director of public affairs for the Scientologists, said the fears of the Tarpon Springs Chamber are unfounded. Wolfe said his church owns no property in the Tarpon Springs area and has no plans to purchase property in the future. "None whatsoever," he said. "Not in the slightest, to my knowledge."

IN RESPONSE to the resolution, Wolfe said, "We are really much too busy with the work we are doing to assist the Clearwater community, like our feasibility study to bring a new hotel to Clearwater, to really care about some resolution."

He called the resolution a "political move" prompted by the Clearwater Chamber inviting other city chambers to join it in its fight with the church.

Mrs. Stafford said the resolution had nothing to do with recent reports about Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Bill Howard's alleged connections with the Church of Scientology. "The board respects Bill," Mrs Stafford said. "We had a concern that this would be taken the wrong way. It's unfortunate, but we decided to go ahead with it. We have nothing against Bill Howard. He is a respected businessman in the community."

HOWARD SAID he had been contacted by the Chamber and assured that the resolution was not directed at him. Rumors have circulated in Tarpon in recent months that Howard is a Scientologist and that he is helping the church buy property there.

Howard prepared a written statement on his rumored connection to Scientology Tuesday, but would not read it to a reporter over the telephone. Instead, he said he would mail it.

Wolfe said he has "heard the reports about Bill." But when asked if Howard was a member of the church, Wolfe refused to answer directly.

"A person has to decide to be a member," Wolfe said. "It is up to any member, at any time. I could never say (who is a member) unless they say it themselves."