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Clearwater officials, concerned about Scientology, opt for plaques to recognize major contributors, instead of more visible honors.
By ANITA KUMAR
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 1999
CLEARWATER -- City commissioners decided Thursday that they would rather collect less money for the new main library than allow controversial groups that make large donations to be recognized prominently.
The Church of Scientology was not mentioned at the televised meeting, but commissioners have said they are uncomfortable with the church being named in a visible way on the library's walls.
They voted unanimously to accept money from anyone but to recognize donors only discreetly on a small plaque instead of naming rooms or areas after large contributors.
"We represent every citizen, not only some citizens," Commissioner Ed Hart said. "In that light, we must accept contributions from any of them, not seek to divide them."
Library officials told commissioners that naming rooms is the "accepted means of recognizing donors" and warned that the city would probably receive less money because of the restrictions on recognition.
"Too bad," Commissioner Ed Hooper said. "That's just reality."
Commissioner J.B. Johnson suggested the city avoid recognizing churches altogether. But City Attorney Pam Akin said the city has to treat every donor the same. Johnson ultimately decided to vote with the other four commissioners.
"I am a library supporter and didn't want to be a minority on this," he said after the vote.
A handful of Scientologists attended the meeting but did not speak and declined to comment after the vote.
Pat Jones, a church spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday night that the church did not want to comment specifically on the policy. But the statement said, "If the Church of Scientology itself makes a contribution to aid in its construction it will do so . . . without any desire for or expectancy for credit."
The city and the church have had a rocky relationship since Scientologists arrived in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s, the FBI seized documents that detailed Scientology's elaborate plan to mute opposition in Clearwater by smearing its local enemies and infiltrating the city's major institutions with undercover operations. Church officials now blame that on rogue Scientologists and cite a later court ruling that criticized the city for passing an ordinance designed to pressure Scientology to leave Clearwater.
Relations have improved in recent years but remain strained. In 1997, 3,000 Scientologists mounted an angry march to protest what they argued was unfair treatment by Clearwater police.
Thursday's debate followed the realization by city officials that they did not budget enough money to build a suitable library. The city is now struggling to raise money, and the Library Foundation plans to help by collecting $3-million for furnishings.
"There is no perfect solution. We all know that," said Glen Garte, the head of the committee that studied the donor policies. "Our recommendation is to keep the library apolitical." Garte said he did not want to name rooms after a donor who could later "fall into ill repute."
The commission decided not to name any rooms or specific areas, such as a computer lab, after donors. Instead, areas will be named after such general items as marine life.
Donors, probably those who give more than $100,000, will be recognized on small plaques erected next to the rooms or in a specific place in the library.
"I decided that since we are not naming rooms or areas, that a discreet plaque is acceptable," Hooper said.
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