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Recording history: Clerk of Council Mary Ann Eaton retires

For 17 years, every Oxford City Council meeting has started the same way.

“Miss Eaton, will you please call the roll?”

Mary Ann Eaton has been Clerk of Council since 2004. She’s seen six mayors and 19 councilors come and go, but this year she’ll be leaving with the outgoing elected officials.

“I’ll be back for lunches and things like that,” Eaton said. “After all these years, I’ve got a lot of friends here.”

It’s hard to pull a fast one on Eaton. She writes the agenda each week for council meetings, drafts every resolution, ordinance and proclamation, and meets constantly with representatives from every commission in the city. You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of legislation in the past 17 years that didn’t pass through her hands.

At the Nov. 16 meeting, though, the city managed a surprise.

“Mr. Mayor, I’d like to move approval of the agenda with the addition of a new 3A,” Vice-Mayor Snavely said at the start of the meeting. “A proclamation.”

Motioned by Snavely, seconded by Councilor Glenn Ellerbe, unanimously approved by the rest of Council.

Once the new proclamation was an approved piece of the agenda, Mayor Mike Smith could read it.

“Whereas Mary Ann Eaton started as an accounting assistant in the finance department in November of 2001 and is retiring on Nov. 30, 2021 as the Clerk of Council with 20 years of service to the City of Oxford, Ohio … 

“Whereas Miss Eaton has always been a dependable employee, staying late on Tuesday nights for council meetings and who is at her desk bright and early on Wednesday mornings …

“Whereas Miss Eaton kept the office candy dish full and could be counted on to have matching shoes, sweaters and handbags …

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“Therefore I, Michael Smith, Mayor of the City of Oxford, Ohio, do hereby proclaim Nov. 30, 2021, Mary Ann Eaton Day in recognition of her 20 years of service and encourage all citizens of Oxford to recognize and thank Miss Eaton for her years of service to our community.”

Eaton first moved to Oxford with her husband Randy in 1990. She worked a few jobs in her first decade here before applying to the city’s finance department.

After passing her civil service exam, she joined the city ranks.

When the previous clerk left her position, she picked Eaton as the new Deputy Clerk in 2004. In 2006, Eaton’s role expanded to include writing the minutes for every city council meeting, and she was officially appointed Clerk of Council in 2009.

In her time with the city, Eaton has drafted the agendas and minutes for more than 360 public meetings. Since 2004, she guesses she’s missed no more than four meetings.

To maintain her stellar attendance record, Eaton schedules her life around Council meetings on the first and third Tuesday of each month.

“When you take this job on, it is a commitment,” Eaton said. “I don't usually take a vacation unless there's five Tuesdays that month, that way I have an extra week in between my city council meetings so that I have time to get the agendas and minutes prepared.”

And she’s never failed to have the agendas ready.

“I usually think I'm gonna have to work overtime, and it ends up I usually don't,” Eaton said. “Sometimes it's a rush to get it done, but I've managed to be able to do that and publish them on time for the last 17 years.”

Eaton has been a fixture of the city since Smith’s career in local politics started 10 years ago on the Historic and Architectural Preservation Commission. He said she’s always been put together since his first interactions with her.

“She just had it all together to be able to organize the council agendas and deal with the minutes for all the meetings,” Smith said. “That's really all we have in history is what's done in those minutes.”

Eaton’s meticulous attention to detail and composure hasn’t changed in the past two decades, though the world has changed around her.

Where notes used to be taken by hand, Eaton now relies on a laptop. The city livestreams and archives meetings now, too, making it easier to go back and reference past deliberations. New commissions, including the Police Community Relations and Review Commission and the Public Arts Commission of Oxford, have formed and changed the landscape of local politics in Oxford.

Eaton has been there to keep tabs on the city’s history through it all.

Her guidelines on writing minutes say she has to provide the rationale for any decisions reached by Council. If it takes a sentence to do so, she writes a sentence. If it takes two pages, she writes two pages.

Eaton has listened to and summarized nearly every decision the city makes in the past two decades, but her role as Clerk means she can’t offer her own opinions.

“The Clerk is there for council support,” Eaton said. “It's not really our place to offer our opinions on things unless it has to do with the Clerk's office … We're there to work for the city council and the mayor and the city manager.”

After 20 years with the city, Eaton said she’s more in tune with the needs in her community than she was before, like vacant buildings and amenities that need updated. With her retirement looming, she said she’ll still keep in touch with her peers and let them know what needs work.

First, though, she’s going to get ready for Christmas.

“I have some projects at my house that I'm wanting to work on this winter, some reorganizing and maybe a little bit of redecorating type things for the winter time,” Eaton said. “Hopefully, by spring we can do some things outside, my husband and I.”

scottsr2@miamioh.edu

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