Anchorage Baptist Temple prepares to enter Prop 5 debate, as tax assessor’s investigation continues
by Melissa S. Green
After a period of relative silence, Anchorage Baptist Temple is now preparing to raise its head in public discussion on Proposition 5. ABT associate pastor Glenn Clary filed on February 21 with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) as chair of a new group called “Protect Your Freedoms Vote No on Prop 5″.
The similarly named “Protect Your Rights: Vote No on 5″ group, started by Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council, was formed earlier in February, and has since created a website and a Facebook page, which so far has elicited more comments from Prop 5 proponents than the opponents Minnery has been hoping to attract.
If passed on April 3, Proposition 5, the Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative, will amend Title 5, Anchorage’s equal rights code, to provide the same legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity that are already provided based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, and physical or mental disability.
The new ABT-backed group comes even as ABT continues to be under investigation by the Anchorage municipal assessor’s office. The investigation came about after it was learned that ABT pastor Jerry Prevo’s son Allen, an audiovisual and computer technician who was ordained by his father’s church in 2002, had secretly been accumulating equity toward the purchase of his ABT-owned, religiously tax-exempt home. Bent Alaska broke that story on August 29, 2011 after receiving an anonymous tip which referenced “talk of…fraud, and other pretty serious accusations” in the court documents in Allen Prevo’s divorce case (Allen Prevo v. Holly Jo Prevo (3AN-10-08113CI)). Bent Alaska’s story was based on court documents through August 16, 2011, and was posted on August 29 bare hours before the judge in the case, Judge Frank A. Pfiffner, ordered the court file to be kept confidential. Not quite the same, legally speaking, as “sealing” the file, though it had the same effect: of keeping the court documents in the divorce case from the public eye. (See the updates in Bent Alaska’s original story for the technical difference between “making the file confidential” and “sealing” it.)
The Anchorage Daily News subsequently sued to reopen the file. An in-depth story by veteran journalist Richard Mauer, published on January 16, revealed that three other ABT staff members were also benefiting from the same secret home-buying program:
- Rev. Tom Cobaugh, ABT’s “minister of education” and chief administrator of its Christian school;
- Rev. Tony Smith, head of ABT’s Ambassadors Bible-study group and its nursery “ministry”; and
- Rev. Glenn Clary, ABT’s administrative pastor.
That’s the same Glenn Clary who chairs the newly created “Protect Your Freedoms” anti-Prop 5 group. He’s also the same Glenn Clary who traveled down to Juneau earlier this month to lobby Republican legislators against House Bill 305.
HB 305, ”An Act relating to a mandatory exemption for certain residences owned by a religious organization,” was filed by Rep. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) to undo legislation that Clary had successfully lobbied for in 2006, with the willing assistance of then-Sen. Ben Stevens (R-Anchorage), who wrote the legislation, and then-Sen.-Lyda Green (R-Wasilla), who sponsored it. The 2006 legislation had broadened state law on property tax exemptions for religious organizations to include church-owned housing occupied by religious school teachers and leaders of church ministries like music. It also broadened the definition of a minister to include anyone ordained “according to the standards of the religious organization” who was employed by that organization “to carry out a ministry” — essentially permitting religious organizations that were so inclined to ordain anyone they wanted to claim held a “ministry,” and for church-owned housing occupied by that “minister” to be tax-exempt. The 2006 legislation was widely criticized, but withstood a court challenge by the ACLU of Alaska and has been in place since. HB 305 would undo that legislation. Currently it’s being held over in the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee after a hearing there on February 9. (See minutes of that hearing. Anchorage Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander was among the witnesses.)
It seems clear that the introduction of HB 305 was fueled at least in part by outrage about the “equity accumulation” program benefiting Allen Prevo, Glenn Clary, and the two other ABT staff members. But in fact they are two separate issues. HB 305 is about whether or not church-owned homes occupied by religious educators should be tax-exempt under the law. ABT’s formerly secret “tax-free house purchase agreements” program, however, was functioning both before and after the 2006 legislation HB 305 is intended to reverse — and to all appearances was and still is outside the law. Alaska law gives tax exemptions only to homes fully owned by a church, and homes in which select ABT employees are secretly gathering equity — ownership interest — are not fully owned by the church. As explained in Richard Mauer’s January ADN story:
If a church was selling a home to a pastor, said state assessor Steve Van Sant, “he would have an interest in it and it wouldn’t meet the criteria for the exemption.” The same would be true for a pastor who had equity in a home otherwise owned by a church, he said.
But after Mauer’s story came out, Jerry Prevo immediately sought to throw red herrings to distract ABT members and apologists from focusing on the actual issues at play in the tax assessor’s investigation, first by obfuscating the difference between these two issues and, second by — incredibly — attempting to cast blame on “‘special rights’ for homosexuals com[ing] up in our city” — that is, the Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative. The tactic is displayed in Prevo’s response to the ADN story, which was posted on the conservative blog The Northern Right on January 17. (Prevo’s response also was included in a message sent by Glenn Clary to an unknown number of Alaska legislators before he flew down to Juneau to lobby against HB 305 on February 1–4). In the response, Prevo claimed,
ABT believes it has properly requested tax exemptions based on legal counsel. It seems this issue comes up about every time “special rights” for homosexuals comes up in our city which is coming up in April. [emphasis added]
Patent nonsense, of course. The last time that the issue of equal protection against discrimination for LGBT residents came up in Anchorage was 2009, and ABT wasn’t being investigated by municipal tax assessors then. At least, not that I or anyone I’ve ever talked with was aware of. The last time tax assessors investigated ABT was in 2004; that investigation resulted in certain ABT properties housing religious teachers being put back on the tax rolls until ABT, as previously described, lobbied Ben Stevens, Lyda Green, and company to make the legislative changes of 2006, which took them back off the rolls again. An ordinance or initiative for LGBT equality was nowhere on the horizon in 2004 or 2006. Was ABT being investigated by tax assessors in 1992? 1975? Those are the other times LGBT equality was up for public debate in Anchorage.
Nope. Just another of Pastor Prevo’s red herrings. In fact, ADN’s story, and the municipal assessor’s investigation, had nothing to do with the Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative. They came about because (1) Jerry Prevo’s son Allen filed in 2010 for divorce from his wife, a divorce which was granted last August 1; (2) an anonymous tipster tipped off Bent Alaska to evidence in the court filings of possible fraud; (3) we chose to look into it and discovered issues that were sufficiently “loosey goosey” (to use Judge Pfiffner’s memorable phrase) that I wrote a story about them; and (4) the Anchorage Daily News and the municipal assessor, among others, confirmed our impression that the ABT’s arrangements with Allen Prevo looked fishy, and followed up my story with more in-depth investigation.
Prevo is clearly sensitive to how the controversy about the municipal assessor’s investigation might have eroded his moral authority — such as it is — to declaim against “‘special rights’ for homosexuals” or hurl invective against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens. From Prevo’s response to the ABT story:
I have opposed “special rights” for what the Bible calls immoral behavior since the 70′s. It seems these recent accusations are again a move to diminish my opposition to these “special rights”. ABT feels they are fortunate in that the city’s tax assessors’ office will be looking for the facts rather than fodder to write a newspaper story and if the church has been mistaken, we look forward to correcting any discrepancies.
Here, Prevo is claiming that Anchorage Daily News itself was targeting him in order to silence him in the public debate about what is now Proposition 5 on the April 3 municipal ballot.
But of course it wasn’t anyone at ADN, any more than it was me, who filed divorce paperwork on Allen Prevo’s behalf on June 6, 2010 (that was Wayne Anthony Ross, who represented Allen Prevo throughout the divorce proceedings); nor was it ADN (or me) who testified, as Allen Prevo did in open court at his divorce trial on April 5, about the formerly secret “tax-free house purchase agreements” program at ABT:
“I’ve worked for ABT for 15 years — you have to at least work there that long and then they will make a way for you to be able to make your rent go toward your equity in your home,” Allen Prevo testified. “If you continue to stay there and you eventually pay off the home, then the home is yours. But it’s all done, basically, verbal agreements, nothing in writing.”
ABT has legal title to the residence at 2230 Banbury Drive in Anchorage. There is no deed of trust on the residence. However, ABT and Allen Prevo have an unrecorded agreement in place whereby Allen Prevo owns the equity in the residence. The agreement provides Allen Prevo is vested with the equity from prior ABT housing [reference to an earlier ABT-owned home for which there was a written agreement signed by Jerry Prevo, which was Exhibit 3 in the divorce case]…. The paper equity on the Banbury residence is a marital asset…. The court finds that the correct paper mortgage balance is $121,518.26 as validated in Exhibit 3 and by Allen Prevo’s testimony. [emphasis added]
Regrettably for the elder Prevo’s “moral authority,” the younger Prevo timed his divorce poorly, having had no knowledge that Equality Works would announce the creation of the One Anchorage campaign for an Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative on September 1, 2011 — or that his testimony in his own divorce trial would lead to a tax assessor’s investigation of his father’s church in the very moment that his father would want, again, to oppose “‘special rights’ for homosexuals.”
It remains to be seen whether the group newly created by another beneficiary of ABT’s “tax-free house purchase agreements” program, Glenn Clary, will have any more moral credibility with the majority of Anchorage voters than the elder Prevo deserves to have.
- 1 Aug 2011. “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” by Judge Frank A. Pfiffner (Allen Prevo v. Holly Jo Prevo (3AN-10-08113CI)).
- 29 Aug 2011. “Prevo divorce documents raise ‘loosey-goosey’ questions about Anchorage Baptist Temple house” by Melissa S. (Mel) Green (Bent Alaska).
- 15 Jan 2012. “Inquiry targets Anchorage Baptist Temple tax exemptions —REV. JERRY PREVO: Did staff members acquire equity in baptist temple-owned homes?” by Richard Mauer (Anchorage Daily News).
- 17 Jan 2012. “Prevo Responds to the Anchorage Daily News” by Jerry Prevo (The Northern Right).
- [undated]. Note from Glenn Clary to Alaska legislators prior to his February 1–4, 2012 trip to Juneau, and incorporating Jerry Prevo’s response to Richard Mauer’s 15 Jan 2012 ADN story.
- 2 Feb 2012. “Lawmaker seeks end to tax break benefiting Baptist Temple — Gardner wants to undo change in benefits made in 2006″ by Richard Mauer (Anchorage Daily News).
- 10 Feb 2012. “Church-owned housing measure has its first hearing — HEARING: SB305 would eliminate exemption for teachers’ housing” by Lisa Demer (Anchorage Daily News).
- 21 Feb 2012. Group registration form for “Protect Your Freedoms Vote No on Prop 5″, Alaska Public Offices Commission.
- House Bill 305, “An Act relating to a mandatory exemption for certain residences owned by a religious organization.” Alaska State Legislature, Bill History/Action for 27th Legislature (2011-2012).