All but one of Charlottesville’s five constitutional offices are up for election this year, but the only contested position is commissioner of the revenue.
Long-serving Commissioner R. Lee Richards chose to not seek reelection.
Democratic candidate Todd Divers, 41, secured his spot on the ballot after defeating Jonathan Stevens in the party’s June primary. Divers faces independent candidates Taneia Dowell, 29, and John Gunter, 58.
Both Dowell, executive manager of the Tenth Street Bed and Breakfast, and Gunter, a former information technology professor and seven-year employee of Richards’ office, said they decided to run as independents because they think the position should be apolitical. Divers agrees.
I am the Democratic nominee, and there is a benefit to that, but I don’t want people to think I’m politicizing the office,” Divers said. “It’s really not a political position; it’s an administrative one.”
Candidates say their voter canvassing efforts have turned into educational outreach, as most people they meet aren’t exactly sure what a commissioner does, or what they should expect from a candidate for the office.
“The position was created as a buffer back in the old days between the taxpayers and the sheriff, to act as a liaison to ensure revenue is collected properly and fairly,” Gunter said.
Charlottesville’s commissioner oversees about a dozen employees and an annual budget of about $1.1 million. The office is responsible for managing personal property tax assessments, business, professional and occupational license fees and a host of other taxes. Commissioners also administer personal property tax relief and help applicants for real estate tax relief and rental relief for seniors and people with disabilities.
The office is in the process of a systems overhaul that aims to facilitate data sharing and communication with the city treasurer’s office, Gunter said. It’s the first of many steps Gunter said the office needs to take to modernize.
Gunter said he’d like to see the meals tax become an automated process, and to eventually phase in iPad and iPhone applications to make paying taxes easier. The Charlottesville native holds master’s degrees in business and computer resource management.
Dowell said that if elected she would continue Richards’ open-door policy, maintain high levels of customer service and embrace innovative, cost-effective ways to move more of the office’s services online. The daughter of a local small-business owner, Dowell says she learned from watching her father’s hard work and sacrifice. The experience attuned her to the needs of the business community and sparked her interest in public service, she
Dowell is a Charlottesville native who graduated from Virginia State University with a bachelor’s in business management. She substitute teaches for Charlottesville City Schools, in addition to managing the bed and breakfast.
Divers said that if elected he hopes to carry on Richards’ legacy of customer service.
“A lot of people coming into that office aren’t going to be happy, and that’s OK, but you need the right kind of person in there helping them,” he said. “I know it’s tough parting with tax dollars, but we’ve got to
pay police officers and firemen and keep the lights on.”
He said he would like to move bill paying online and increase services for residents, such as arranging visits from mobile Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
Divers is a Martinsville native who moved to Charlottesville in 1990. He works for Frontrunner Sign Studios, has a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Virginia and a master’s of teaching in secondary social studies from UVa’s Curry School of Education.
“People are genuinely interested in learning more about the office,” Divers said. “I just hope folks remember to make their voices heard in these down-ballot races on Election Day.”
The position starts at an annual salary of about $80,000, according to Charlottesville’s human resources director, Galloway Beck.
Running unopposed in the Nov. 5 election are Dave Chapman, 60, who has served as Charlottesville’s commonwealth’s attorney for 20 years; Sheriff James E. Brown III, 42, a former Albemarle County police officer and Offender Aid and Restoration worker who was first elected in November 2009; and Jason Vandever, 31, who worked in the city treasurer’s office for four years before stepping up in October 2012 to fill the shoes of long-serving Treasurer Jennifer J. Brown upon her retirement. Vandever defeated a single opponent to retain the seat during a special election in April.