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Public housing activist cries foul

By WAYNE WASHINGTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000


TAMPA -- Community activist Connie Burton said Friday that the Tampa Housing Authority is trying to evict her to mute her criticism of the authority.

"This is a political attack," said Burton, who has lived in Robles Park for 14 years and serves as president of the resident council.

The Housing Authority initiated eviction procedures against Burton and four others last year under its one-strike-you're-out anti-crime policy. That policy allows the Housing Authority to evict tenants if they are arrested, if their guests are arrested on Housing Authority property or if someone listed on a tenant's lease is arrested.

Burton's son Narada, who was listed on her lease, was arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana last year.

Burton and the other residents challenged the one-strike policy in U.S. District Court, and the Housing Authority reached settlements with the four other tenants. Burton said she hasn't settled because the Housing Authority offered her different terms than those agreed to by the others, who have all been allowed to stay in public housing.

Burton, a frequent critic of Housing Authority policies, said she was asked to give up her "Straight Talk" radio show on WMNF-FM 88.5, leave Hillsborough County, agree not to sue the Housing Authority and give up the resident council presidency.

"I believe the terms the Housing Authority were trying to get me to agree to are terms they knew I would never agree to," Burton said. "The terms were designed specifically for Connie Burton."

Burton's attorney, Guy Burns, and Richardo Gilmore, who represents the Housing Authority, said settlement talks are confidential and offered no details.

Burton's challenge of the one-strike policy was dealt a blow late last month when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Lazzara ruled that the policy is legal.

In determining that the policy is legal, Burns said, Lazzara would not rule on whether it should be used in Burton's case.

He left that for a Hillsborough County court to decide, and the case now shifts there. Burns said no decision has been made on whether to appeal Lazzara's ruling.

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