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County petition process urged

Take Back Tampa is preparing a move on the county charter, a tactic that could open a route to repeal the gay rights law.

The group's attorney said Monday that he will ask the County Commission to schedule a countywide vote on whether to allow a process called "initiative and referendum." It gives voters the right to petition the commission to consider new ordinances and repeal existing ones; if the commission does not approve the petition, a referendum must be held.

"It's a voters' rights issue," said Don Conwell, attorney for Take Back Tampa, the group organized to overturn the gay rights ordinances passed in Tampa and Hillsborough last year.

The laws protect homosexuals from discrimination in employment, real estate and public accommodations in Tampa, and from discrimination in real estate, public accommodations and public contracts in the county.

Conwell said voters in Hillsborough deserve the right to petition the County Commission to change ordinances _ a process already in place in Tampa. Ultimately, the process would be used to ask voters to overturn the gay rights ordinance. A vote in the city is already planned.

Last week, Take Back Tampa said it would circulate a petition to get the initiative-and-referendum issue before voters.

But Monday, Conwell met with County Administrator Fred Karl to discuss a faster route to get the referendum. Instead of gathering more than 20,000 signatures on a petition, Take Back Tampa simply will ask the commission to set the referendum.

At least five commissioners would have to support the proposal for a charter change for the referendum to be held.

Karl said that, in concept, he supports such a referendum process but plans to ask the county attorney to review the proposal before making a recommendation to the commission in March.