Person of the Week
Mary Jo Phelps: A Deep Commitment on Many Fronts
Since arriving in Clinton in 2001, Mary Jo Phelps has gotten involved in town government in several ways. (Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Phelps )
Whether it’s helping shepherd in a new form of government, working to balance economic growth and environmental protection, or helping educate students, you can say Mary Jo Phelps has her hand in every facet of life in Clinton.
Mary Jo and her husband Max moved to Clinton from Montana in 2001 after the publishing company Max worked for was bought by a larger company. A conversation with one of her husband’s coworkers led Mary Jo and her husband to Clinton when considering places to live.
“She talked about Clinton and what a great little town it was and she said the schools were good and they had kids the same age as ours so we were very happy to hear that,” Mary Jo recalls.
In the 20 years since then, Mary Jo wasted no time in getting involved.
“My husband likes to call me a ‘serial joiner,’” Mary Jo says with a laugh.
One notable way that Mary Jo was able to donate her time to Clinton was when she served on the 2018 iteration of the Charter Revision Commission, the commission that proposed substantial changes to the town’s charter including the change to a town manager style of government. Mary Jo says she became interested in joining that commission because of the chatter she had heard about the change in government structure, and the more she heard the more she liked.
“We’ve had some great first selectmen, but I thought it would be great to have someone with professional knowledge of things that are affecting the community,” says Mary Jo.
The changes were eventually approved by voters at a referendum in November 2018, which for Mary Jo was a fulfilling feeling.
“It was a great experience, there were so many changes that went through,” she says.
Mary Jo is currently a member of the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC), which is an appointed board that works to examine activities that can impact the many wetlands that fall in Clinton. Applications that propose construction near rivers are an example of the type of the item the IWC might consult on. The commission may take site walks and listen to testimony from experts while it has to decide if the proposed development would adversely affect the wetlands.
As the time the Charter Commission was coming to an end, someone recommended that Mary Jo become an alternate on the IWC due to her interest in environmental issues. Mary Jo agreed, but there was a surprise in store for her.
“It was funny, we had just ended our work and they recommended I become an alternate to get my feet wet and I thought that sounded good. I ended up seated at the first meeting so we could make a quorum and almost every other meeting after that,” says Mary Jo.
Mary Jo, who has since become a full member of the commission, says she had to learn the IWC “kind of on the fly” as she was seated as an alternate very frequently, but that experience has paid off and she says she finds the work rewarding.
“We all work really well together and we all get along,” Mary Jo adds.
In addition to her work on the IWC, Mary Jo is also a member of the Conservation Commission, which she joined in 2020.
“Environmental issues are very important to me,” Mary Jo says of her choice to join the commission.
Both the IWC and Conservation Commission work with the town’s natural resources, but their missions are different. Mary Jo points out that the conservation commission goals are more open ended while the IWC has a regulatory function.
“I’m a child of the ’70s and environmental issues were key then,” Mary Jo says of her interest in protecting the environment.
Mary Jo says she tries to live by a motto of “think globally, act locally.” Before coming to Clinton Mary Jo says she wasn’t as involved in organizations but became more involved in volunteering after she moved to Clinton and found a becoming involved was a way to get to know her new community.
“When you’re new to town getting involved is a great way to meet people,” Mary Jo says. “I’ve met some amazing people through all this.”
During her time in Clinton, she has been a member of the PTA and is an active member of the Democratic Town Committee, too.
Mary Jo spends her days working as a paraprofessional at The Morgan School working with special education students. Mary Jo has been with the schools for more than 10 years and says her job is to support the teachers, a position she thoroughly enjoys.
“I get to go to all different classes and meet all different kids and different teachers, too,” says Mary Jo. After moving to Clinton and as her kids started school, Mary Jo was looking for a job, which led her to substitute teaching, and then eventually a more regular position within the schools.
“My first permanent position was actually in the library at Joel and I used to work in publishing as well, so I was very happy there,” Mary Jo remembers.
In her spare time Mary Jo can be found spending time with her family including her two kids Eli and Emma. The family likes to play music together, travel, and go for hikes.
As her Clinton, Mary Jo feels moving to town all those years ago was the perfect choice.
“My favorite thing is obviously the people but it’s just such a great little town.”
“It’s definitely a great place to raise kids and I’m glad we made the decision to come here,” Mary Jo concludes.