Independent John Pfaltz and Democrat Jason Vendever are vying for the city treasurer job.
"When the phone rings," says Commissioner of Revenue Lee Richards, "it's always a crisis."
file photo by jen fariello
Commonwealth's attorney and sheriff are the better known constitutional officers; treasurer and commissioner of revenue– not so much. In the next year, each of these positions are up for grabs, and voters might want to familiarize themselves with the candidates, since once elected to those posts, people tend to hold on to them for years.
Jennifer Brown had been treasurer for 19 years when she resigned October 1 for health reasons. She was elected in 1993, the same year as Commissioner of Revenue Lee Richards, who just announced he would not be seeking a sixth term.
Last fall, City Council named Brown's deputy, Jason Vandever, 30, interim treasurer until the end of her term in 2013. If he's elected in November, it's not too much of a stretch to think he could hold onto the $87,600-paying job for the next few decades.
And that's why independent John Pfaltz decided to run for office and pushed to have an April 2 special election. "City government is an extremely tight, closed group, and it bothered me the son of a former mayor would just step into this position unelected," says Pfaltz.
"That's the purpose of the treasurer being elected," he continues. "To be independent. He's a check on City Council, not a part of it."
Perhaps not too surprisingly in a Dem-heavy town, city councilors Dede Smith and Kristin Szakos were present at Vandever's January 23 official announcement that he was running, as was his father, former mayor Tom Vandever, and former councilor Julian Taliaferro. City Clerk Llezelle Dugger introduced Vandever, and former treasurer Brown endorsed him.
"He knows this job," said Brown. "He knows this city."
And pointedly, she said, "It's not a job for someone who just wants to make some headlines."
Vandever grew up in Charlottesville, and he described working as a teller at Wachovia in Dallas in 2005 and rising to branch manager. He has served as chief deputy treasurer for five years.
"My family is very committed to Charlottesville," says Vandever in response to Pfaltz's allegations of "nepotism" and insiderism. "Both of my parents have been in public service their entire lives." That and his eight years of experience in the financial industry, he says, make him qualified to be treasurer.
Forty-year resident Pfaltz, 77, knows the city as well, and he thinks his experience as a professor of computer science and his research on the behavior of large networks, such as social networks, are important skills for treasurer. Pfaltz was a critic of the city's $6.6-million CityLink computer system launched in 2004.
Pfaltz points to a flyer that went out with December utility bills from the city that explained Vandever was the new treasurer. "We were at City Council last night, asking for a flyer for me to explain my qualifications," he says.
Councilor Kristin Szakos defended the flyer, relates Pfaltz, and said it was appropriate to send it out because there was a new treasurer and people need to know who's handling their money.
The winner of the April 2 special election shouldn't get too comfortable, because he'll have to run again November for a four-year term.
Lee Richards will be 64 in February, and he decided after nearly 40 years working for the city (he was in the treasurer's office before moving to commissioner of revenue) to not seek another term.
"The commissioner of revenue is the chief assessing agent for the city," explains Richards. "We put a value on everything. It's very specialized work. The treasurer sends the bills out."
So far, no one has announced a bid for the job for which Richards earns $108,000. "I'm not in it for the money," he says, reminding, "I started as a clerk and made $6,500 a year."
The state determines compensation for constitutional officers based on the population of the locality they serve. Often, localities like Charlottesville add to that salary, says city spokesperson Miriam Dickler.
Richards' position will be on the ballot in November, and he says he'll stick around to make sure the new commish is up to speed.
"This job is high energy and visible to the community all the time," says Richards. "I work six days a week. I've loved it."
One other consideration for potential candidates: "You have to read a lot of code books," warns Richards.
Just in case Albemarleans are wondering why they've never voted for treasurer or commissioner of revenue, that's because the county has a director of finance instead, and it's not a constitutional office.