By Anne O'Connor
SHIRLEY -- In a close race, Debbie Flagg defeated Bryan Sawyer for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
"It was very close, just what I expected," she said by phone after the results were announced.
"The two of us, I thought we ran a really good campaign," she said.
The retired teacher was happy to see so many former students and their families turn out to vote. Their support shows that she did a good job as a teacher and that they trust her, she said.
The tally was Flagg, 490; Sawyer with 442 and one write-in vote.
Of the 4,143 registered voters, 22.5 percent cast a ballot.
Both candidates and a few loyal supporters stood at the foot of the road leading to the town offices during the chilly day. Flagg's group had a fire burning to add a little warmth.
Both groups were upbeat in the afternoon.
"It's been going pretty well," Sawyer said. "I wouldn't dare call it."
"I'm pretty happy with what I'm seeing," Flagg said. "We're getting a lot of thumbs up."
By 2 p.m. almost 500 people had voted, more than 10 percent of the registered voters. Fewer voted in September when voters approved an override to purchase a fire truck.
Before this special election, both candidates reached out to voters. Each spoke during a candidates night and each did a mailing.
Flagg sent something out to everyone in town.
Sawyer said he went through the voting list and did a targeted mailing.
The election follows a turbulent time in Shirley politics.
Two selectmen were recalled a year ago. Holly Haase, now chairwoman, and Jim Wilson were elected to fill the seats.
Wilson ran unopposed for a three-year term in April and resigned in August without giving a reason. Tonight's winner will fill that seat until May 2020.
Other town officials were involved in controversy.
The police chief was put on paid administrative leave and a sergeant was promoted to fill the vacancy. Another sergeant, fired at the recommendation of the chief now on leave, was rehired as a lieutenant.
The town is looking at regionalizing dispatch with Ayer in order to keep all shifts covered.
Solar fields were a bone of contention. Supporters, saying they followed all safety and environmental guidelines, touted the economic gain of the leased fields for the town.
A group of residents claimed the lease was illegal. Land Court did not agree.
Flagg and Sawyer, both life-long Shirley residents, agreed during the candidates night that they would like to see the divisions end.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.