Times Staff Writer
DADE CITY — Dade City's Wild Things founder Kathy Stearns refused to let People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals officials enter her facility on Thursday for a court-ordered inspection, court filings show.
The inspection was granted by a federal judge so PETA experts could observe the care and housing of 22 tigers on the property. PETA sued Wild Things in October, alleging its tiger cub encounter business, in which visitors can pay to cuddle or swim with weeks-old cubs, violates the Endangered Species Act....
DADE CITY — On Friday, a federal judge ordered Dade City's Wild Things not to remove or relocate any of its 22 tigers pending an ongoing legal battle with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
By Sunday, 19 of the Dade City tigers pulled into the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma after a 1,200-mile journey on a cattle truck.
The move appears to be a reaction to a July 12 ruling by a judge allowing PETA officials to inspect the facility, owned by Kathy Stearns, and observe the tigers' care and housing. The judge scheduled the site inspection for Thursday....
CLEARWATER — Pinellas County's program to protect sea turtle nests has fallen into disarray, creating what state wildlife officials call an unprecedented situation.
The lone biologist licensed to oversee the marking of sea turtle nests on 22 miles of Pinellas County beaches was fired last month by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Laura Wright says she's still trying to do the job anyway....
Calling Scientology a dangerous 'cult,' Calvary Baptist Church pastor intended to help A&E film episode for Leah Remini series07/13/17 Special Topics
CLEARWATER — In an unprecedented public condemnation by a local religious organization about the Church of Scientology, Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Willy Rice declared Wednesday that the "community has been tormented by this Goliath for far too long."
"Someone has to pick up a rock and a slingshot and trust God with the results," Rice wrote in a blog post that has since been removed from the Calvary website. "We believe we are in a unique position in this community and should try to help."...
CLEARWATER — Nearly 40 years ago, then-Parks and Recreation director Ream Wilson walked a stretch of palmettos and rattlesnake habitat at the corner of Drew Street and McMullen-Booth Road and envisioned athletes on fields and fans in the stands.
Fastpitch softball had become the city's main spectator sport. Wilson's predecessor, Eddie C. Moore, served national leadership roles while working for the city and helping form the men's Clearwater Bombers, which won 10 national championships between 1950 and 1973....
07/06/17 Human Interest
CLEARWATER — The interdenominational Chapel by the Sea, the only place of worship on all of Clearwater Beach, has its first new pastor in three decades with the retirement of the Rev. Herb Frietag in June. And when the Rev. Dr. Rhonda Blevins gave her inaugural sermon July 2, she also became the first female pastor in the church's nearly 70-year history.
Blevins, 46, worked as the Baptist campus minister at the University of Georgia and served congregations in Tennessee and Kentucky before coming to Clearwater. She said she wants the congregation's priorities to drive her vision but has made one thing about her philosophy clear: "We welcome all people to the table." ...
07/01/17 Special Topics
CLEARWATER — A Church of Scientology lawyer says the city's recent decision to back away from a land swap with the church was "unfounded," and she signaled in a letter that her clients will be watching to see if religious discrimination might be at play.
The lawyer, Monique Yingling of Washington, D.C., said the swap had been in the works for six months, with city staff never expressing "even a hint of a concern" about needing the three small parcels it would be giving up. Plus, the city would be gaining, in exchange, a vacant lot on Cleveland Street it needs for parking worth $175,000 more than the three parcels combined....
06/29/17 Public Safety
CLEARWATER — Having lived on the streets since 2014, when he said God ordered him to go out and watch over the homeless, Scott Elfstrom has seen new faces brought out by the typical drugs, despair or plain bad luck.
But a fresh wave of homeless has emerged downtown in recent months, unique from what he's seen before. Driven in part by a crackdown in St. Petersburg's Williams Park and Clearwater's Crest Lake Park, officials say transients are increasingly migrating to Clearwater's comfortable waterfront, bringing with them a drug that has challenged law enforcement agencies across Tampa Bay for years: spice. ...
If anybody was expecting state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to quit being coy and and announce his bid for the 2018 governor's race to the friendly crowd at Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative delegation breakfast Wednesday, they left disappointed.
Latvala dodged a question posed to each legislator asking who they predict will be their party's nominee.
“I just want to acknowledge my best friend in the senate, one of the finest members of the senate who's here with me today,” Latvala non-answered. “Sen. Denise Grimsley has just been an outstanding member of the senate.”...
06/26/17 Special Topics
CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology planned to film a mock FBI raid on a downtown building Monday afternoon, but the actors and cameras never showed up to the location disclosed to the city.
Church officials first notified the Clearwater Police Department on Friday that unarmed actors would be wearing FBI T-shirts and carrying boxes from one of two possible locations for a "film project."...
CLEARWATER —Taxpayers are slated to pitch in more for the Jolley Trolley next year to cover upgraded vehicles and technology despite declining ridership on the city's routes.
Jolley Trolley has been running its shuttles with wooden benches in North Pinellas County since 1982, and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority began subsidizing the company in 2009.
The county transit authority put the trolley contract out to bid for the first time in November, and the Jolley Trolley secured its territory against three competitors, winning a five-year, $15 million contract in February....
Clearwater City Council member Doreen Caudell has announced she will run as a Republican for Pinellas County Commission next year against incumbent Democrat Pat Gerard.
The November 2018 election has the potential to disrupt the first Democratic majority on the board since the 1960s, achieved in 2014 with Gerard's victory in District 2.
According to the City Charter, Caudell will have to step down from the council in November 2018 whether or not she is elected to the County Commission....
06/15/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Another public banner has gone up in the city through a program to beautify streets and promote local art.
Palm Harbor artist Stephen Graff's "Waves and Raves" was selected to decorate 474 feet of fencing along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue between Pierce and Gould streets.
The artwork has an array of shapes and colors that represent Clearwater's natural resources as well as its growing and changing demographics, according to a news release....
CLEARWATER — They've tried hiring out-of-state consultants to figure out how to revive downtown. They've launched festivals and painting-in-the-park events hoping occasional visitors become regular foot traffic. Former City Council member Jay Polglaze hustled for a good year to entice craft breweries but watched as they settled instead in the vibrant Dunedin core just four miles away.
With vacant storefronts still dominating downtown, city officials are now trying to lure businesses with their most aggressive strategy yet: cash. ...
06/14/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — The City Council blocked another land deal involving the Church of Scientology on Wednesday night, adding uncertainty to its already tense relationship with downtown's largest landowner.
Discussions began late last year over the city trading three properties it owns to the church for a lot east of downtown to be used for retail parking. The church wants two of the city's parcels for part of its proposed L. Ron Hubbard Hall downtown. ...