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Maryland county explains why (don’t call it Scientology) can take a hike

TroutRun

 
The county council in Frederick County, Maryland, is fighting the Church of Scientology in court to keep the church from putting one of its quack drug rehab centers in a former fish camp known as Trout Run.

Readers know we’ve been following this dispute for some time, and that it’s a bit technical. But it’s another great example of how Scientology tries to run roughshod over local government officials and local courts, and so we’ve been keeping an eye on the case, step by step. And now, we think there’s an interesting new wrinkle you’d want to hear about.

First, the quick rundown to remind you what this fight is all about: Three years ago, Scientology, through its real estate arm Social Betterment Properties International, paid $4.85 million for a parcel of land that included the lodge for a fish camp. The property, known as Trout Run, had once stood in for Camp David in some scenes for The West Wing. Scientology had learned that although the current zoning didn’t allow a rehab center, if SBPI could get the parcel put on the county’s register of historic places, it would qualify for a zoning exception that would allow renovation of the place for a 20-bed Narconon center.

The Narconon program is steeped in controversy, with patient deaths and unhappy former customers producing dozens of lawsuits around the country in recent years. Increasingly, word is out that Narconon is simply a Scientology front that doesn’t really deliver drug counseling at all but instead drills addicts on the same kinds of exercises that beginning Scientologists go through. Despite those problems, however, Scientology leader David Miscavige is pushing to open new centers, like the one he wants in Trout Run.

On June 2 last year, the county council voted 6-1 to deny putting Trout Run on its list of historic places, going against the recommendation of its own Historic Preservation Commission, something it had never done before. Scientology filed a legal appeal in county district court, claiming that the council, which said that it denied the petition simply because Trout Run really wasn’t historic, was actually swayed by what it had heard at public meetings about Scientology, and was practicing religious discrimination.

Judge William R. Nicklas Jr then said that he couldn’t really render a decision in the case as long as the county council had never really defined its findings behind its 6-1 vote. Come back when you can explain yourself, he told the county.

So, a few weeks ago, the county did just that, putting together a pretty easy to read document explaining how the process had unfolded, and how the evidence that SBPI had submitted was not convincing. We’ll post that document, and we’d like to hear your thoughts on whether county attorney John Mathias has put together a document that will convince the judge that the county council did its job properly when it rejected Scientology’s application.

And there’s an interesting wrinkle that we hinted at. The document specifically mentions that Scientology’s application in part rested on the testimony of a local historical expert, Ms. Kathryn Kuranda. According to the document, Kuranda testified that Trout Run is a really unique location that fits the county’s criteria for an historic place. But the county council disagrees, saying that she “acknowledged that there were a number of these types of camps and a number of similar guest houses and cabins developed throughout the Catoctin Mountains.”

The document then goes on to say that the architect hired by SBPI to renovate the property, Michael Proffitt, admitted that there have been modern improvements made to the structures at the fish camp in recent years, lessening its claim to being historic.

Now, here’s were it gets a little interesting. Katherine Kuranda, a local historian, is testifying to the historic nature of Trout Run, and if the county council agrees with her and designates the parcel as historic, then Michael Proffitt, the architect hired by SBPI, will benefit by getting to design the new renovations to the place.

A tipster, however, sent us a link to an obituary of a man named Landon Proffitt, who died in 2013. Among the people he left behind were Michael Proffitt and his partner….Kate Kuranda.

We were curious if the county council was aware of what appears to be, at least, a possible conflict of interest involving the two local people Scientology is relying on to convince the council to allow it to put in a drug rehab.

We sent messages several days ago to both Proffitt and John Mathias, the county attorney who had prepared the findings document. Neither of them have responded.

We also called up Kai Hagen, a former Frederick County commissioner who has followed the Trout Run controversy closely, and has written some of the clearest analysis of what’s going on at his website.

We asked Hagen, are we right to wonder if there’s a conflict here, when Scientology’s main historical witness is testifying to something that would materially benefit her partner, the architect hired by Scientology to do the project renovation? Are people in the area aware of this connection?

“I wasn’t aware of it, and I don’t know if the council is. But it doesn’t seem immaterial to me,” Hagen said to us yesterday. “It’s definitely something you could bring to the attention of the county attorney, which it sounds like you have. It’s good that they know that.”

He went on to criticize both Kuranda and Proffitt for what they had said in testimony, dismissing their views on Trout Run in much the same way that the county’s new filing does. In both cases, they’ve been making claims for the historic nature of Trout Run that just aren’t consistent with other locations in the area, he said. But he added that there’s no wonder why they’re saying what they are.

“If they didn’t say exactly what Scientology wants them to say, they wouldn’t be the ones saying it. It would be someone else saying what Scientology wants them to say. They know it, and they’re probably being paid very well for it,” he said.

But he added that the county council has been careful not to base its decisions on Scientology’s involvement, but purely on the question of whether Trout Run is really historic.

“From the very beginning, the county’s elected officials have done a good job ignoring, in terms of their own talking points, the issues that, while I think are relevant — Scientology’s involvement– are not related directly to the legal question at hand,” he said.

In other words, the county council is on solid ground, and judges tend to give local governments a lot of leeway to conduct business.

But even if the county can convince Judge Nicklas to uphold last year’s vote, will that convince Scientology that Trout Run is a lost cause?

“It’s a fight worth fighting, and it seems the county is in a strong position,” he said. “I’m just hoping this goes badly enough for Scientology that they figure that no court in Maryland will overturn it.”

Here’s the county filing…

Trout Run: County Findings

 
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HowdyCon is here

We’re going to do our best to keep the blog going as normal this weekend. In the comments, however, you may be seeing a lot of messages about something called “HowdyCon,” and so we thought some explanation was in order. Last year, while we were traveling around the country on a speaking tour to support our book The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, one of our readers asked, why are you visiting so many places? In response, we quipped that we would need to see what cities were like before choosing one for a convention.

We were joking, but that utterance took on a life of its own. Soon, readers had organized a vote to decide where to have a meetup, and Cleveland was chosen. So we’re having a small gathering there of about 50 folks who enjoy this website. We chose the name “HowdyCon” to honor a beloved commenter, Steven L. “Captain Howdy” Cox, who died on March 6, 2015. We’re also going to honor the memory of Mary Marinelli, known in the Bunker as “Sugarplumfairy,” who passed away on January 9.

We’ll be meeting very informally, with the main event being a dinner on Saturday night which will feature a special guest we’re looking forward to talking with. We’re sure the participants will keep you up on what’s going on.

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on June 17, 2016 at 09:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield

 

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