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Building Wrap Removed
"Clearwater Board Says Scientology Violated Sign Laws"
Photo: Jim Damaske, Tampa Bay Times
"The wrap covered a tent near the Church of Scientology’s Super Power Building in Clearwater. It has since been removed."
A wrap that until Tuesday covered a massive Church of Scientology tent downtown violated the city's sign laws, a municipal board ruled Wednesday. The Code Enforcement Board also said if the church places other illegal wraps around the 150,000-square-foot tent that it could be fined $500 a day as a repeat offender. No fine was imposed Wednesday.
The church removed the controversial wrap Tuesday, prompting city officials to wonder if the church planned to attach other wraps for celebrations later this year. 'That may very well be the case,' said Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing the church. But Armstrong and church representative Sarah Heller declined to confirm whether more wraps were in the works. Instead, the church argued that the wrap wasn't a sign, but art albeit intended only for its own members.
Photo: James Borchuck, Tampa Bay Times
Board member Mike Riordon asked why the church didn't seek the city's permission or feedback before putting it up. 'How is it that you think people in general would really believe that you didn't know there would be an issue with this?' Riordon asked Heller. 'If we'd considered it a sign, we absolutely would have come in for a permit,' Heller responded.
Armstrong and fellow attorney Gina Grimes said the city's actions infringed on religious freedom, risked violating federal laws protecting that freedom and showed faulty interpretations of its own ordinances. A city attorney said the issue wasn't about art or religion, but signs. 'We are simply asking that they follow the rules just as any other good corporate citizen, religious citizen or even just a regular plain Jane or Joe Citizen would do,' said Camilo A. Soto, assistant city attorney.
The purpose of the multi-colored wrap that included the phrase 'Golden Age of Tech' and an acronym for 'Keeping Scientology Working' was aesthetic and religious, Heller said. 'They have meanings for Scientologists and to make it look prettier,' Heller said.
The board ruled 6-1 that the church had violated the city's sign code...
-- Charlie Frago, Tampa Bay Times
Grand Jury Releases Findings On Billboard Company's Illegal Tree Cutting Permits
In June 2009, Citizens for a Scenic Florida received an anonymous letter reporting that acres of trees were being cut down along I-10 and other state roads in the Panhandle without approved vegetation management plans or associated mitigation fees. As it turned out, more than 2000 trees were "illegally removed" from state right-of-way along I-10 and other roads in the Panhandle. The letter indicated that the trees were removed by Bill Salter Advertising Co. in order to create view zones for the company's billboards. The letter also suggested that Salter Advertising had used the influence of then State Representative Greg Evers to broker a deal with FDOT leadership and that an FDOT employee had been ordered by the FDOT District Director of Operations James Rodgers to let Salter Advertising "do whatever they want." In response to public records requests by Citizens for a Scenic Florida and the St. Pete Times, no documents provided by FDOT confirmed any communications on the subject between then Representative Evers, then FDOT Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos, and then FDOT Deputy Secretary Kevin Thibault. In response to a public records request made in 2010 (by a citizen in St. Petersburg) for all emails to and from Secretary Kopelousos for a given period, among the thousands of documents provided by FDOT were emails revealing such communication between Evers, Kopelousos and Thibault. Other emails turned up later when the original records requests were repeated verbatim in 2011. This information was forwarded to the State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit and subsequently reviewed by a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury called it a debacle.
* Grand Jury Presentment (report)
* Grand Jury Presentment Attachments
* Citizens for a Scenic Florida Press Release
* Citizens for a Scenic Florida letter to Governor Scott
* Citizens for a Scenic Florida letter to FDOT Secretary
* FDOT letter (dated 2-22-2012) to Bill Salter Advertising, Inc.