Democratic Incumbents vie for Re-election to Strafford County Commissioner’s Office


(L-R) Robert Watson, Deanna Rollo, and George Maglaras

Zoe Selig, Mouth of the River (ORHS)

On Nov. 8, 2022, Americans across the country will head to the polls and vote in the midterm elections.  

While races for the US Senate and House of Representatives tend to take up most of the advertising space on TV, more localized races down ballot also have significant impacts on Granite Staters. Voters in Strafford County, which includes Durham, Dover, Lee, Madbury, Barrington and eight other municipalities, have the opportunity to vote on a contested County Commissioner race. Three incumbents, Robert Watson, George Maglaras and Deanna Rollo, all Democrats, will face Republicans Fergus Cullen, Susan DeLemus and Jonathan Otterson for the position.  

The job of a County Commissioner is to manage the finances and departments of the county. Commissioners are the county’s executive board, overseeing the county jail and corrections, the register of deeds and the county’s nursing home for the elderly. 

The nursing home, a 215-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing facility called Riverside Rest Home, is particularly relevant in the current election as it could determine its future. Candidates are divided along party lines on current plans to build a new, $170 million facility and turn the existing building into transitional housing for the county’s homeless population.

 County Commissioners also meet with the County Delegation, a body made up of all representatives in the New Hampshire State House from Strafford County, to manage the county’s budgeting and expenditures. In Strafford County, county commissioners are elected for two-year terms. 

Democratic Incumbents:

George Maglaras (D) of Dover is the current Chairman of the Strafford County Commissioners. He is seeking his 20 term as a Commissioner, having been elected to the position in 1983, and has been in public office for his entire adult life. Over his decades in office, Maglaras said he has led efforts in criminal justice reform, improved the treatment of those who are incarcerated in Strafford County and provided drug and alcohol services to county residents struggling with addiction. Maglaras has also helped to put 200 acres of county land into conservation and is currently working towards building one of the largest solar farms in the state to support green energy. 

As a County Commissioner, Maglaras is heavily involved with the criminal justice system on a daily basis. 

“I try to treat people in the county jail fairly but firmly,” Maglaras said. “I also support efforts to give victims some say in what happens to people who are perpetrators of their crime.”  

Another of Maglaras’ priorities is constructing the new county nursing home to accommodate the Baby Boom generation. Even though this project is mainly for the benefit of Strafford County’s older population, Maglaras encourages young people to vote in the County Commissioner race. 

“[Students] need to focus on the type of government our founding fathers set up,” said Maglaras. “I think it’s resilient, and I think it’s really important for young people to pursue their dreams, no matter what they are, and become engaged and try to give something back to the community.”  

The second Democratic incumbent on the ballot is Deanna Rollo. A resident of Rollinsford, she was a New Hampshire State Representative for five terms between 2002 and 2016 before getting elected to the position of County Commissioner in 2018. 

“It’s an amazing experience and I work with an amazing team of people every day,” said Rollo. “Everything we do at the county, we make sure that we get everyone’s opinions and move forward in a reasonable and responsible way.” 

In the position, Rollo said she tries to implement policies that help county residents while keeping property tax rates as low as possible.   

“I am very passionate about the nursing home,” said Rollo when asked about her top priorities in the coming term. “It’s an old facility, and it’s not conducive to today’s population.” 

Rollo explained that the doorways and hallways in the nursing home are not wide enough for some residents in wheelchairs, and there are 40 people using the same shower. 

“The people that live there have spent their whole lives working, bringing up their families and at the end of their lives they have no money left so they end up at the nursing home for the county’s support,” Rollo said. “It’s reasonable to expect that they should have the best situation that we can possibly afford.”  

Rollo also wants to address Strafford County’s homeless population and increase affordable housing for county residents. She supports turning the current nursing home into temporary, transitional housing for the homeless “so they can get a job again, get their feet back under them, get some type of housing and get their lives back, especially young families with children.” 

She also wants to build more workforce and affordable housing in Strafford County so people have somewhere to live as rents increase. She said this will benefit college students too, because “you need somewhere to live that’s affordable for you.” 

The third Democratic incumbent, Robert Watson is from Rochester and has been a County Commissioner since 2009. He said he has always been involved with politics, and “serving in a public office is a great way to give back to the community.” Watson also works as a realtor. 

“The nursing home is one of the most important things we do,” said Watson. “We offer great care,but it’s a very old building that’s kind of outlived its usefulness, and we really need to do something better. Building a new nursing home is definitely a top priority.”

 Watson also supports turning the existing building into transitional housing for the homeless.  

The department of corrections is another important function for the commissioner’s office, according to Watson. 

“We’ve been really innovative there with the programs we run, like the community work program, the drug treatment program, mental health court and transitional housing,” he said,“Those are all important parts that not only reduce recidivism but also save the taxpayers money, because the people going through the system get treatment, get their life turned around, and hopefully don’t end up in the system again.” 

Republican Challengers:

On the Republican ballot, Fergus Cullen of Dover is currently in his second term on their city council. Previously, he served as the Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee from 2007-2008. 

“I’m running to hit the brakes on the proposed $170 million new nursing home and permanent homeless facility at the county complex,” Cullen said. “I am for having a modern nursing home for medicaid-eligible citizens, but I don’t think that we need a project this big or this expensive. I think it’s been rushed, I think they’ve been not clear on how we’re going to pay for it and I think it’s been put together with almost zero public input. I’m not opposed to doing something, but I’m not convinced that this is the right plan.” 

Cullen also has concerns about the plan to provide transitional housing for the homeless in the current Riverside Rest Home building. 

Fergus Cullen

“If you think we have a homeless problem now, wait until you build a permanent homeless facility,” he said. “I am empathetic to people who are in need of transitional housing. The challenge is, the homeless population are not just people who are down on their luck temporarily. This population deals with substance abuse challenges, with mental health challenges, they are largely unemployed and unemployable, and it is a chronic condition. If you build a permanent facility, you can expect to see a lot more of it, and not less. I’m okay with transitional [housing] which has a high barrier to entry and time limits, but I am not in favor of having a permanent facility.” 

While these are Cullen’s two main motivations for running, he also wants to add a new perspective to the board of County Commissioners. Strafford County has not elected a republican to the County Commission in over a decade, and according to Cullen, “some diversity of perspective is important in any group. I don’t think it’s healthy to have a group that’s all republican, or that’s all democrat.” 

The other two Republican candidates, Susan DeLemus and Jonathan Otterson, were unable to be contacted for comment. DeLemus lives in Rochester and currently serves in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Otterson is the treasurer of the Dover City Republican Committee. 

For students looking for more information on how to vote in the upcoming election on Nov. 8, 603 Forwardoffers information on their website. Students can also access more information on how to vote by checking out the University of New Hampshire Voting page.

All photos are courtesy