Charlottesville Voter Registrar Rosanna Bencoach plans to step down in July.
The decision came about the same time that the Electoral Board decided it would seek applicants for the position and Bencoach would have needed to reapply for the job.
The board decided in the winter to hold an open application process for the position, according to members and meeting minutes.
Bencoach said she’d “prefer not to say” whether the board’s decision is the reason she won’t seek reappointment.
Secretary Jim Nix said the decision to seek applications came in January, which is the first month it appears in meeting minutes. Board Chairwoman Anne Hemenway said she doesn’t remember a formal decision on the process.
Over the last four years, Bencoach, 59, has run the registrar’s office quietly from the City Hall annex with little to no public controversy.
Her tenure started in early 2015, at the end of a saga that led to the resignation of Registrar Sheri Iachetta.
Iachetta and former Electoral Board member Stephanie Commander were accused of using Charlottesville taxpayer money to cover more than $7,000 in bills for city-issued cellphones for people who no longer held positions with the city: Commander, who left the Electoral Board in 2011, and Pat Owen, Iachetta’s husband, who left a job with the registrar’s office in early 2010.
Iachetta, who held the post for 15 years, pleaded guilty to four counts of misdemeanor damage to and removal of city property. Prosecutors dropped six felony charges as part of a plea deal.
Bencoach filled out the remainder of Iachetta’s term and was appointed for another four years in July 2015. Her salary is $65,582.
“We really had a hard time finding qualified applicants,” Nix said. “We were lucky with Rosanna because she came to us with extensive experience.”
Nix said the board could reappoint a registrar, fire them or have an open application process.
“We told her that we were going to view it as a vacancy,” he said. “This is not an unusual thing. This happens in other places, as well.”
Hemenway said Bencoach told the board in December that she would not seek reappointment to another four-year term.
Nix declined to discuss the specific reasons for the board’s decision because it involved personnel. He mentioned a “performance appraisal” and unspecified “issues,” but he also said the board told Bencoach it would welcome her application. Board member Jon Bright declined to comment.
Since August, the board has held several closed sessions to discuss personnel and has openly talked about issues with elections and the office, according to meeting minutes.
In August, the board held a “prolonged discussion” on several issues, including “office morale,” the minutes say.
Following the November election, the board addressed several issues at its Nov. 19 meeting, including ballot printing, pollbook deficiencies and absentee ballot reporting.
At that meeting, Hemenway said training was a problem because preparation was “put off until the last minute,” the minutes say.
In December, Hemenway said the board needed to be “better informed” of work in the Registrar’s Office and the panel agreed to require weekly staff meetings with one board member present at each meeting.
Bencoach said she decided to not apply because she accomplished the goals she had for the position — increasing trust in the office and improving transparency and operations.
“Those were the main needs when I came in and those have all been dealt with,” she said. “It has been gratifying to work in elections in a place where there’s so many people who recognize that elections are important.”
Nix emphasized that the board wants the next registrar to have more supervisory experience and preferably work in Virginia.
Bencoach, who grew up in the Fifeville neighborhood and attended the University of Virginia, has been involved in politics and state government throughout her career.
She was part of the gubernatorial campaign of Gov. George Allen. She worked in Allen’s administration and also with his successor, Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Bencoach spent more than a decade at the state Board of Elections in Richmond and worked at voter registration offices in Fairfax and New Kent counties.
Looking back at her time, Bencoach finds the most gratification in high voter turnout. In the past three elections, between 57 percent and 77 percent of active registered voters in the city have cast ballots.
Engagement seems to only be increasing, Bencoach said. In 2017, candidates were asking in January how to run for the City Council. For the 2019 election, she started getting calls last October.
“In Charlottesville, people are very engaged and voting at a very high rate,” she said.
Bencoach didn’t reveal her thoughts on turnout and participation, saying, “I’ll leave it to the pundits to evaluate the numbers.”
Bencoach doesn’t have a plan for the next step in her life, but she plans to remain in the city she’s loved since childhood.
The board is accepting applications for Bencoach’s replacement through late April. The position is advertised with a starting salary between $57,000 and $79,000.
Hemenway hopes the next registrar can improve relationships with UVa and its students.
“It’s very difficult for college students, especially ones who aren’t from Charlottesville, to determine whether they live in the county or city and where to vote,” she said. “I think we can do a much better job working with the university.”