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Council awaits report on district elections

Modesto City Council members on Tuesday get their first look at proposals that could change the way they are elected.

They're scheduled to hear a report from the city's Charter Review Committee, a 10-person group they appointed a year ago to evaluate the document that shapes Modesto government.

Top on the committee's report: a proposal to replace Modesto's at-large council elections with district elections that require candidates to live in specific parts of the city.

Charter committee members agreed that the city should make that change soon, but they could not settle on how Modesto should adopt district races.

That's why the committee wants the council to place an advisory vote on the November ballot. It would allow voters to show which election system they prefer by choosing from the following:

Electing six council members from six parts of town. Candidates would have to win a majority of votes from within their district to take office.

Using a hybrid system that increases the number of council members from six to eight. Two seats would go to candidates in citywide races and six would be reserved for candidates in district campaigns.

Maintaining the city's current election format in which candidates for six council seats run in citywide races.

The winner of the advisory vote would go before Modesto voters in 2008 for final approval.

The council in February declined a push to place a measure on the November ballot that would have created a six-seat district election system. Council members said they wanted to wait for the charter report before making that decision.

Aside from that effort, led by former Mayor Carmen Sabatino, a Latino group is pushing to force district elections through the courts. The Latino residents argue that Modesto's citywide council elections dilute the power of minority votes.

Modesto is among the largest cities in the state to continue using an at-large council election system. City voters in 2001 rejected a bid to create a district election system.

In other business, the council's agenda includes:

Giving raises to high-ranking city officials

Permitting a zoning change that would enable First Baptist Church to build a three-story gymnasium on Needham Street

Adopting a plan for the possibility of runoff elections in the fall when three council members and the mayor are up for re-election. It calls for choosing the top two candidates within 10 days of the election in each race. If the city learns, when the results are certified, that it has chosen the wrong candidates, it would cancel the December runoff election and hold the runoff in January.

The City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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