The leader of East Grinstead Town Council has responded to a claim that the "town is run by Scientology" made by university students in a 15 minute video by stressing that this suggestion is "misinformed and unhelpful to say the least".
A 15-minute video entitled "The Town Run By Scientology" was uploaded to YouTube by university students last month on March and has been shared on social media since, resulting in council leader Jacquie Russell addressing it during a full council meeting on Monday. (April 3).
In the film, a presenter who goes by the name of Monty Wilson speaks to somebody claiming to have been a Scientologist for 20 years before leaving.
Mr Wilson accuses councillors of going "far too easy" in approving planning applications by the Church of Scientology.
At the meeting, Cllr Russell said it is "categorically untrue" that to suggest the "council turns a blind eye to anything the Scientologists do for fear of upsetting them".
In response to claims made in the video, Cllr Russell said: "[I] felt it appropriate to address a couple of elements directed at the council and councillors and their conduct.
"It is suggested in the documentary that there is the perception that the council is 'far too easy' on the Scientologists and, in terms of its [the council's] lack of contribution to the documentary, is 'keeping quiet' because it is in its best interests to do so.
"The documentary refers in particular to the number of charitable donations councillors have accepted on behalf of good causes in the town, and the perception that because these donations are received, the council turns a blind eye to anything the Scientologists do for fear of upsetting them, which is categorically untrue.
"The council has no jurisdiction over the conduct of the Church of Scientology or any other organisation in the town, it can only address concerns as and when they apply."
Cllr Russell made it clear that the council does accept donations for good causes, explaining: "It is important to be aware that a number of these causes would not survive in this town without such charitable donations, as there are very few funding opportunities through more traditional channels."
She added: "It is without question that the good causes of this town do receive financial assistance from the town's largest resident and, like any charitable donor, this is acknowledged in the appropriate way.
"Perhaps more important to acknowledge is that our town council is not run by the Church of Scientology, it is run solely by the officers who are employed and instructed by the elected members who in turn are voted in by the town people – that is the reality."
A scene in the video depicts work being carried out at a Scientology-owned property within the Saint Hill Green area.
Regarding this, Cllr Russell said: "The property featured is subject to a planning application which was originally submitted in September 2016 and initially refused by the town planning committee.
"It returned again on January 23, 2017. As chairman of planning, I have personally addressed the many concerns of local residents particularly relating to the level of impartiality that could be expected.
"They [concerned residents] were invited to attend the meeting and sit in the public gallery, to witness first-hand the thorough scrutiny by the committee members and clear impartiality of process in an open and accountable manner.
"The committee were not in support of the retrospective nature [of the works], nor the impact any approval would have upon the immediate community in terms of loss of amenity and road safety and as such the application received a further recommendation for refusal and is now waiting to be scrutinised again at the district council before a final decision is reached."
Cllr Russell stated that there is "often a vast chasm" between public perception and the reality of the day-to-day running of the council.
"Documentaries such as this are one-sided, misinformed and unhelpful to say the least," she added and invited residents to attend any of the 35-plus public meetings held each year to understand how the council is run."