By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER â€“ After the State Board of Elections finished a marathon tally of votes from the Nov. 6 general election, Exeterâ€™s 130 absentee ballots moved challenger Bob Johnson into the fifth and final slot on the town council.
Trailing incumbent Dan Patterson, a local contractor, by only four on election night, Johnson wound up garnering 66 absentee votes to pull out a victory over the sole Republican councilor who tacked on 57 after the final tally.
The final margin was 1,474 for Johnson; 1,469 for Patterson. On the following Tuesday morning, Patterson requested a recount; it is scheduled for Friday at a time to be determined.
The new council comprises four Democrats and one Independent.
The vote broke down this way with the first four slots won by incumbents:
Arlene Hicks, (Democrat and current council president) 1,880; Ray Morrissey Jr., Independent, 1,865; Calvin Ellis, Democrat, 1,607; William P. Monahan, (Democrat and current council vice president), 1,492); and Johnson, Democrat, 1,474.
Tallies for the unsuccessful candidates, all Republicans, were Patterson, 1,469; Edward Nataly, 1,285; and Lincoln B. Picillo, 1,207.
Johnson, the vice president of a Providence-based security firm and an experienced officeholder who previously served three terms â€“ from 2004-2010, two as council vice president â€“ said, â€śI really didnâ€™t think the absentee ballots would put me over.â€ť
He maintained an interest in some thorny issues during the last year including how to resolve the long-running controversy at the Exeter Animal Shelter. He attended public meetings over the course of a month in which the facilityâ€™s weaknesses and improvements were addressed by the council.
Johnson voiced concern, especially about how the town was being portrayed on multiple sites all over the internet â€“ which he regarded as giving Exeter an embarrassing black eye â€” and also wrote numerous letters to the editor which appeared on the Opinion pages of the Standard-Times.
He attributed his election to persistence in seeking the truth and not participating in vendettas which â€śseem to be important to some in Exeter politics.â€ť
In particular, Johnson said he wants to see an end to the unjust criticisms directed at the Department of Public Works and its leadership. â€śItâ€™s a great group of hard-working town employees who deserve our support.â€ť In fact, he charged that some who are anti-DPW are jealous of the departmentâ€™s high performance level and â€śjust canâ€™t get over the work they do.â€ť
Johnson said, â€śI am looking forward to returning to the tableâ€ť and would like to assume Pattersonâ€™s role as council liaison to the townâ€™s emergency management agency.
â€śI have stayed involved the last two years as vice chair of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that covers South County [because] I realize how important this planning is.â€ť
His most ambitious project is to convince residents of the need for a town manager/administrator â€“ a concept that has been repeatedly rejected as voters turned back attempts to pass an ordinance creating such a position.
Johnson plans to make his case via numbers.
â€śWe are losing money by not having this position. I want to spend the next two years [documenting] each event where it could have saved us money.â€ť
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is a freelance writer for SRIN.