joanna kelley city council

Joanna “Jo” Kelley

2021 Portsmouth City Council Candidate Questionnaire

Portsmouth’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Below, City Council candidate Jo Kelley responds to’s candidate questionnaire.

Age: 33

Occupation: Cafe Owner, Makeup Artist

Civic experience: Board member – Big Brothers Big Sister of NH, Strawbery Banke, Seacoast African American Museum, Organizer NH BIPOC fest, Big Sister Mentor

Years living in Portsmouth: 12

1) Do you think the city should impose any new measures or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time?

The residents of Portsmouth took COVID seriously and thanks to that we’ve been able to adjust to the new normal. Our health department has guided residents and business owners really well during this time. I believe that any new measures they recommend should be followed.

Do you think the Prescott Park Master Plan should be updated in any way? Specifically, do you think the stage should be temporary or permanent? Covered or uncovered?

The master plan now in place was the result of hundreds of residents contributing a variety of perspectives. Ultimately, I support the result of all of their work and input. As for my personal preference, protecting the park from climate change and erosion is critical, and I love the idea of a permanent stage that can be fitted with a cover that helps protect from weather and sound pollution.

How do you feel about the current pace of development in Portsmouth?

As a starting point, I believe that land owners have the right to achieve the highest and best use of their land, so long as it fits within the laws governing our town. The question we need to ask ourselves as policy makers is how those laws should be shaped and applied to ensure that the nature and character of Portsmouth, and all of its unique pocket neighborhoods, is nurtured along the way. Part of this is preserving status quo for property owners and occupants currently happy with their surroundings, and another part of this is ensuring that we shape our laws to achieve goals such as providing access to housing, and increasing our tax base without continuing to increase the tax rate itself.

What, if anything, do you think should be done to increase access to affordable housing?

We need to acknowledge that this is a regional, state and national issue that has no one stop solution. That said, I believe the inclusion of workforce housing in all new development needs to be at the top of this next council’s mind.

What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s bike lanes? 

I think we need to look at other cities and towns for refreshed ideas, while taking into account the opinions of our local biking community. Top priority for me is making sure that any child that wants to bike to their school has a safe path to do so.

Regarding the McIntyre building, what do you feel is the best path forward to avoid litigation and get the project done?

Nobody wants to be part of a lawsuit, whether it be as a Plaintiff or Defendant. Am I frustrated with all the litigation Portsmouth is constantly dealing with? Yes, this is why breaking the cycles leading us to court is one of my top priorities.

That said, I believe the real problem here is rooted in processes and attitudes that leave people feeling without a voice and combative. We have had hundreds on residents spend hundreds of combined hours on the original and new designed plans. I view it as part of my job to ensure these voices are heard and considered to build a happy medium for the project, because we are all footing the bill needlessly otherwise.

We need to get the key parties together, and we need to do so in a way that the public can trust that there are no more closed doors or individual discussions happening. Based on the conduct of some current city councilors, I believe frustration and lack of trust is warranted, and it is time for us to step up as leaders and show that we are capable of doing better.

What additional measures do you think the city should take to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts?

We need to have a full Climate Act Plan and it will be the job of this next council to decide what that looks like. Committing ourselves to become carbon neutral and growing our public transportation are two major, doable, steps we can take.

Do you support the idea of seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining at restaurants — even after the pandemic has (hopefully) subsided?  

I have always supported outdoor seating and dining, and that was true prior to the pandemic. I’d go a step further and look to try to build a plan that allows other retailers to use outside spaces also. I believe the pandemic had the silver lining of showing residents that it not only can work, it does work. That said, we still have work to do in order to refine our policies, and I am excited to be a part of that process.

What do you think the council can do to cultivate an environment of respect and collaboration and minimize hostility in local government?

The council is a policy making board that works best when it is a collaborative effort between our council, residents, and the city manager. Let’s face it, trying to advocate for change in policies, or to be granted approvals, is not a glamorous process. And, while our City Manager does an exceptional job making the processes simpler to navigate, the nature of local government and law is that process and safeguards render it all a bit overwhelming at times. From my perspective, a City Council has the duty to at least avoid making it anymore cumbersome or daunting, and anytime there is a lapse in civility it is a breach of that duty. Consequently, avoiding further breaches is another one of my top priorities. I will do this by doing what I believe I do best: bringing people together from various points of view, empowering them to make their voice heard, and holding myself and my peers accountable to act in accordance with our policies to truly hear those perspectives. We will always have dissent and disagreement about decisions, but I never want anyone to feel that their voice was not both heard and considered.

Aside from the issues already raised in this questionnaire, please outline ONE other priority you would address as a city councilor over the next two years.

This next council will be tasked with starting our next Master Plan, therefore we need a council that will help increase public involvement in the process. We’re setting the course for the next 20+ years of our city and it’s a task that can’t be looked at lightly.

BONUS: What are you going to be for Halloween?

Group costume as the cast from Ted Lasso.

To see other candidates’ responses, click here.