By Reggie Ellis
Twenty-six years after attending his first Exeter City Council meeting, Roy Chace attended his last on Jan. 27.
"It was the second meeting in January 1978," Chace said. "I had just been hired as the city's finance director with a 3-2 vote."
Although the vote was split, the decision turned out to be a good one. During Chace's tenure the city has seen slow growth, financial solidarity and a beautification and development plan that has made Exeter one of the Valley's most desirable cities. Although councilmembers and city staff had already thrown Chace a retirement party, they took the opportunity to thank him one more time.
"Roy this is the best place to live in the Valley," Councilmember Charlie Stearns said.
Chace was hired as the city's finance director in 1978 at the age of 41. In 1982, when then city administrator Leigh Megargee left the city, Chace gradually took over the position and was also appointed to finish out Megargee's last term as city clerk. Chace has held all three positions for the last 21 years.
Chace admits he may not have been the "nicest finance director," but that his aim was always to do what was best for the city. During the public comment period, Exeter Antiques owner Brian Barton said the first time he met Chace there was a hole in the "Orange Harvest" mural and he asked the city for money to fix it. Chace recommended the council pay to repair the wall.
"I appreciate that Roy, thanks for doing a great job," Barton said.
John Kunkel, who was appointed as Exeter's chief of police in August 1986, was sworn in as the new city administrator at a special meeting on Jan. 30 at Rocky Hill Elementary School's library. . Kunkel was hand-picked by Chace to be his successor and has been training for the transition since the city council approved his appointment in September.
"It has been a great pleasure to work with Roy," Kunkel said. "He is a nice man and a great human being who taught me a lot."
During his tenure, Chace hired many longtime city employees, including those city behind him at the council meeting -- Kunkel, City Finance Director Sherri Hoover and Public Works Director Felix Ortiz.
"Roy hired me when I was 23," Ortiz said. "That after he told me to finish school. Thanks for everything you've done."
City Planner Greg Collins said he wasn't so lucky.
"It took me three years to get hired by Roy, or maybe I just softened him up," Collins said. "All I know is that if Roy was running the state we wouldn't have to float a $15 billion bond."
The state budget crisis is something Kunkel will have to deal with in the near future. Kunkel is also expected to be appointed to city clerk, an elected position, at the council's Feb. 10 meeting.
"The measure of man is if he leaves a place better than he found it," Kunkel said. "Roy certainly has."
Deputy City Clerk Betty Darby will remain in that capacity. Darby will celebrate her 28th anniversary with the City of Exeter in September. She has worked with 9 mayors and more than 20 councilmembers during her time with the city, so change is nothing new.
"Like getting a new council every several years, you adjust to new personalities," Darby said.
Mayor Leon Ooley said the council meeting was bittersweet, saying goodbye to Chace but welcoming in his protege. Ooley said there were no worries because Chace had personally trained Kunkel and Darby "knew everything about the city that there is to know."
City Attorney Steve Kabot did not wear a tie to the council meeting in honor of Chace's retirement.
"This is the first time in 20 years that I have not worn a tie to a council meeting," Kabot said.
Chace said he plans to begin his retirement spending time with his ailing mother in Florida and then heading on to Massachusetts where his family still lives and he and his wife, Jennie, will make their home.
"My daughters were impressed with city and said they wouldn't mind living here," Chace said. "Of course, now that I am moving away they want to come live here."
Ooley closed the meeting by calming any fears Chace might have about having too much time on his hands during retirement.
"I retired 12 years ago and it took me about one day to get used to it," Ooley said. "You have served this city well and we wish you God speed."