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Take Back Tampa takes new tack

A group that has been battling for months to overturn city and county ordinances that protect homosexuals from discrimination is expanding its challenge.

On one front, Take Back Tampa is planning to try a never-before-used method to change the county's charter. If the group is successful, voters will be able to propose new ordinances, or ask the County Commission to repeal existing ones _ including the gay rights law.

On a second front, the group has gone back to court to ask a judge to order Tampa officials and the county Supervisor of Elections to hold a referendum on the city ordinance in November.

Take Back Tampa is tired of delays in setting a date for the referendum, said attorney Don Conwell, who was referring to recent city council meetings where a vote was delayed because different council members were absent.

"We don't want to make any accusations," Conwell said, "but it has taken a long time."

The city's human rights ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual preference in employment, real estate and public accommodations. The county's version is similar, except that it doesn't include employment.

As soon as the amendments were passed, opponents vowed to overturn them, or vote the backers out of office.

The group's efforts to change the county ordinance involves a complicated process to alter the county's charter, which is the document that details how Hillsborough government operates.

Supervisor of Elections Robin Krivanek said last week she cannot remember anyone using this method to change the charter.

"It is very hard," she said.

Take Back Tampa will need to get more than 20,000 signatures of registered voters.

If the group does that by September, and if Krivanek certifies the signatures as authentic, a referendum will be scheduled for Nov. 3.

The voters would be asked to change the charter to give citizens the formal right to petition the commission to consider ordinances or repeal them.

If the commission refused the petition, then a referendum would have to be held.

This process already exists in Tampa and was used to force a referendum on the human rights ordinance. The only debate is when to hold it, which is why Conwell filed the motion to set November as the date.

Backers of the law have vowed to fight any attempt to change it.

"I honestly believe most of the public is going to look at the enormous energy these people are putting into trying to deprive a group of their basic right to fairness and dignity and they are going to realize how utterly, outrageously, out of proportion it all is to the danger that is claimed to exist," said Keith Roberts, an attorney who backed the amendments.