Austin City Council voted 5-1 to place a charter amendment to overhaul the council to have eight geographically determined council seats, two at-large council seats and an at-large mayor on the Nov. 6 ballot at the council's work session Aug. 7.
The so-called hybrid plan will appear on the ballot alongside the 10-1 plan with 10 geographic districts and a council member representing each district. The city's charter review committee recommended a 10-1 plan, and a petition with 33,000 verified signatures ensured its placement on the ballot.
Councilmen Bill Spelman, who was not present for the vote, and Mike Martinez both have said repeatedly they do not support placing both charter amendments on the same ballot.
"If we put two single-member district proposals on the ballot, I think it is extremely likely both of them will fail," Spelman said at the July 31 work session when the council passed the hybrid plan on second reading.
Opponents to the hybrid plan cite the fact that Austin voters have rejected 8-2-1 several times, most recently in 2002.
"8-2-1 failed to pass in 2002 mainly because the council ignored the charter commission then," speaker Debbie Russell said.
Some also say the council wants the at-large seats to keep themselves in office, though Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole pointed out there is already a charter amendment on the ballot that would limit council members to two terms. That would make every member of the current council except Kathie Tovo, who is serving her first term, ineligible to run for re-election.
Another complaint about 8-2-1 is the assertion that eight districts would not allow for enough minority representation on the council. Nelson Linder, Austin president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the current system leads to a council that disempowers minorities and residents of lower income. He spoke in favor of the 10-1 plan, which he said will pass the Department of Justice's minimum standard.
"If you keep the current system, we're going to see you in court happily," Linder said.
Several speakers spoke in favor of of the hybrid plan, saying it is important to have some at-large seats to keep per capita spending under control and to ensure representation of groups whose preferred candidates lose election bids.
Councilwoman Laura Morrison said at the July 31 work session that she thought voters should have a choice between the two plans.
"For me, an important choice that we're giving the voters is it boils down to really the at-large seats being able to represent interests that are not necessarily geographically based," Morrison said.