By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER – After the State Board of Elections finished a marathon tally of votes from the Nov. 6 general election, Exeter’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 – from 2004-2010, two as council vice president – said, “I really didn’t think the absentee ballots would put me over.”
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 facility’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 – which he regarded as giving Exeter an embarrassing black eye — 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 “seem to be important to some in Exeter politics.”
In particular, Johnson said he wants to see an end to the unjust criticisms directed at the Department of Public Works and its leadership. “It’s a great group of hard-working town employees who deserve our support.” In fact, he charged that some who are anti-DPW are jealous of the department’s high performance level and “just can’t get over the work they do.”
Johnson said, “I am looking forward to returning to the table” and would like to assume Patterson’s role as council liaison to the town’s emergency management agency.
“I 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.”
His most ambitious project is to convince residents of the need for a town manager/administrator – 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.
“We 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.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is a freelance writer for SRIN.