RINCON — The tension was thick and the margins were thin in the Nov. 2 municipal elections in Rincon.
Seeking his fifth term, Rincon Mayor Ken Lee found himself trailing Kevin Exley by eight votes after the machine totals were tabulated at the Vernon Hinely Center. Early votes and absentee ballots, however, pushed the incumbent to a slim 437-420 victory.
“It was a tough election,” Lee said. “That’s evident by the count. It was very close and I’m sure that Mr. Exley had some points that resonated with a lot of the residents, and I believe that the things that I’ve done over the last 16 years made a difference.”
The four-candidate race for three Rincon City Council seats was also close. Paul Wendelken (442) finished 15 votes shy of returning to the council after losing a 2019 election. The Nov. 2 winners were incumbents Levi Scott (508) and Ben Blackwell (457), and newcomer Damon Rahn (458).
The mayor expressed gratitude and relief for his triumph.
“I think people recognized what I and the council members that I have been able to serve with have been able to do over the last 16 years,” Lee said. “I think it shows confidence in us and I am thankful for it, and I look forward to the next four years.”
Lee, who touted himself as a consensus builder, said he was “aligned” with Scott, another longtime council member, and Blackwell, a recent council addition. Exley had a similar arrangement with Rahn, a former member of the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority, and Wendelken.
“We kind of ran together somewhat,” Lee said. “It’s being able to run with people who think like you think and have the same values you do.”
Exley, who resigned from the council in 2020, clashed with Lee on multiple fronts. In addition to challenging the mayor’s leadership ability, he said Rincon is a dangerous place to live for residents of Picket Fences, a subdivision with approximately 200 lots that is fronted by railroad tracks.
Picket Fences was developed without a second entrance as called for in a planning code update. Exley said no action has been taken on adding an entrance even though the council recently budgeted $750,000 for one.
None of the contentiousness that was prevalent during the campaign was evident in Exley’s post-election remarks.
“I just really appreciate all the people coming out and supporting me,” he said. “A 16-year incumbent is hard to beat. I’ve got to give it to him because he worked hard as well and, you know, the best man won this time.”
Exley, who wished the mayor well, added, “I will be back!”
“When you get that close to an incumbent of 16 years — the way I look at it — I’m electable,” he said. “I hope that the close results turns out to be a message.”
Rahn expressed similar sentiments.
“I hate that Kevin lost,” he said. “He put up a good fight. We worked our tail off and I think we made other people work this time.”
Rahn said he is ready to work with Lee and the rest of the council. He called himself “a team player.”
“Hopefully, I can put forward some ideas that will help get this community moving forward,” Rahn said.
Rahn said one of his goals is to establish solid relationships with other government and business entities that can help Rincon deal with growth and the challenges that come with it.
“The growth is coming whether we like it or not,” he said.
Jan Landing is another new elected official who will have to deal with growth. She defeated Jeff Schielke for the Effingham County Board of Education District 2 seat 632-356.
The seat opened when Troy Alford resigned in June.
“I am humbled and honored that people put their trust and support in me,” Landing said. “I wish there was a way to personally thank every single one of them.”
Landing will be sworn in at the Nov. 18 board meeting.
“I’m ready to jump in with both feet,” she said.
In other elections, Effingham County voters approved a six-year, $80 million SPLOST referendum 2,571-1,287. The funds will primarily be used to make recreation and infrastructure improvements throughout the county.
County voters also OK’d a Freeport exemption to the ad valorem tax on e-commerce inventory. It passed 2,473-1,661.
In Guyton, voters approved a liquor sales referendum 201-76 and Post 4 City Councilman Michael Johnson defeated Andy Harville 160-113.