My Story with Paula Dennison, City of Stillwater, OK

Posted on February 24, 2015

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ELGL’s mission is to connect, communicate, and educate. In this ongoing series, ELGL members tell the story of why they chose a local government career.

Paula J Dennison, AICP (LinkedIn and Twitter) is a general land use planner with over 25 years local and regional planning experience. Currently, Paula is the Director of Development Services with the City of Stillwater, Oklahoma, overseeing all development, planning, engineering, stormwater management, and grants for the City. In addition to her professional career, Paula serves as the president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Planning Association, is a member of the American institute of Certified Planners and a member of the PlaceMaking Leadership Council. Paula is proud to aid her community by serving on a number of non-profit boards and in church positions. With her husband and their daughter, Paula shares her life with a dog, a cat, and four goats. She is currently working thorough the Jack Reacher series by Lee Childs; she prefers creamy peanut butter; she bakes WWII Molasses Oat cookies at every opportunity.

Fun Fact: Paula moderated Stillwater’s first Twitter Town Hall.


My story begins…..
34e5e80….in the rural cotton fields of West Tennessee where I grew up in an environment of clearly understood right and wrong, in the Bible belt, in the times of everyone pitches in to get the job done. My small hometown prepared me to be accepting of all others and respectful of divergent thoughts and ideas and actions. As I grew into the world, I became more aware of the enormous impact my hometown had on my professional planning career.  I see opportunity at every corner and intersection; I believe that growth is positive; I am tasked with helping a customer achieve their dream any my city achieve her dream (not achieve my dream). Through life’s lessons, I know that there is no job too low for me nor too lofty for others. My leadership philosophy is: I will not ask my staff to take on a project or complete a task that I would not do myself.
My friends think that local government is…..
….a great and fine thing when they need a service from local government that they cannot provide for themselves – but think that local government is a royal pain when they want to do something creative or unusual or special or fast and local government seems to purposefully throw a wrench in the works. They love me but wonder how in the world I’ve stayed in local government as long as I have.
The defining moment of my life was……
…..there are actually a number of defining moments:download

  • when my interest analysis in college identified “urban planning” as the top subject I should pursue – and I’d never heard of such a thing,
  • when I said “yes” to my best friend to whom I’ve been married 25 years this year,
  • when we decided something was missing in our lives and had our daughter,
  • when I achieved all of my career goals by the time I was 30 and we asked ourselves, “well, what now?” and then we just dove right in without a plan!

I am interested in a lengthy local government career if…..
……Since I’ve had a lengthy government career, over 25 years so far, I can only hope it will continue until I retire.  However, unlike the crazy uncle everyone says should have given it up years ago, I do not ever want to become unproductive, untrainable, uninspired, or a bad leader/mentor.
I aspire to….
… a better person tomorrow than I am today…and maybe bring a bit of light to someone’s life.
If you want to interview someone interesting, you should contact……
Christina Groves (Kentucky).  Christina is one of the most amazing women I know: determined, totally focused on her job, completely in love with her husband, and devoted beyond belief to her twin boys. She is intelligent, passionate, sensitive, flamboyant, cautious, and expressive. Her life has been filled with ups and downs but you’ll only get the “ups”.  She is in inspiration!
I think more people would pursue a local government if…..
There was…1_gif

  • an actual understanding and embracing of truly being a servant to others,
  • more people were informed of all the stuff local government takes care of (as in “there’s NEVER a dull day”), and
  • the tangible realities were a bit more quickly realized.

I think professional networking associations are…..
……too cumbersome and involving.  On the flip side, I know that great friendships come out of professional associations.
I think bumper stickers are…..
images (1)Hysterical…however, they are sort of like texting while driving…TOO DISTRACTING!  My husband and I saw the best one ever when driving through Southern Indiana about 20 years ago and we bend double laughing every time we re-live the moment! (send me an email and I’ll give you that story)
My story ends…..
…….when there are those that refuse to speak of the progress of my city, when the Earth is over, when time stands still.  As long as there is someone to speak of me to whomever they pass by, my story will not end.  As long as buildings go up and come down in my city, my story will not end.  As long as my descendants keep coming, my story will not end. Because my story is Life and Living.
For the next person that you interview, you should ask……
…..If you had to do it over again, would you want to re-live it as a human or would you choose something else? What? Why?

Supplemental Reading

APA Oklahoma President video 2014

Stillwater, OSU look to develop Campus Corner area

Crude codes: Stillwater officials consider rig regulations

Stillwater uses web site to crack down on code enforcement

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