The city of Ashland’s new public works director knows what she's doing. That's because she's done the job before. Paula Brown, 56, held the position from 1997 to 2008 before she left to continue her service in the active Naval Reserve.
Brown, who has worn many hats over the years, has an extensive resume in federal and local infrastructure projects and government contracting.
She started serving in the Navy as a civil engineer in 1982. After earning her master’s degree in secondary education from George Washington University in 1987, Brown worked at the Rogue Valley Council of Governments from 1993 until June 1997, at the city of Ashland as public works director, then at the U.S. Navy First Naval Construction Division in Norfolk, Virginia, from October 2010 to September 2013.
Most recently, Brown served as deputy chief of civil engineering at Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, D.C., from October 2013 to September 2016. She retired from the Navy as a rear admiral in 2016.
Brown was appointed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown this year to be on the state Transportation Commission, which shaped the transportation package in the 2017 legislative session.
Brown also came back to work for the city of Ashland, serving as a part-time project manager until Mayor John Stromberg offered her the job she once held nine years ago.
“Her proven record in complex program and project management, as well as strategic planning at various levels of government makes her an ideal choice for appointment,” a city staff recommendation document reads. “Paula has maintained awareness of the issues and challenges facing this department and the City.”
“It’s truly been a full circle for me,” the longtime Ashland resident said. “I’m confident in what I can do here. … You know how people say, ‘I wish I would have known then what I know now.’ Well, I feel like I’m at that point right now.”
One of her top priorities coming in, she said, is to address a multi-million-dollar project to build a new Ashland water treatment plant — or more specifically, to suspend it.
“The city was just going along very happy without poking our heads up to see what’s going on,” Brown said of the city’s plan to build a new 2.5 million gallon a day (MGD) water plant. “I was fortunate to come in with a fresh view of the matter.”
The project, budgeted in long-range planning documents at nearly $23 million, aimed to build a water treatment plant capable of providing enough water for the city of Ashland for the next 30 to 50 years, Brown said.
But things have changed since then, Brown said, citing the completion of the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix (TAP) Intertie, in which water is available from the Medford Water Commission.
“The city needs to define the problems we’re working on,” she said. “We didn’t have the emergency water source then — we have it now. We are not solving the 2.5 MGD problem anymore.”
Brown, instead, proposed a plan to look into either building one 7.5 million gallon water plant or upgrading the existing plant to extend its lifespan to 20 more years. City staff projected Ashland will need a capacity of 7.5 million gallons in the next 20 years with current population growth rate.
“We are taking a pause of our current plan of building a 2.5 MGD plant, which will do nobody any good,” Brown said at a City Council study session last week. “Running two plants for a city of 21,000 people is pretty costly.”
The City Council applauded Brown’s initiative when she presented her new plan Nov. 13.
“I think it’s really good that you and your team would stop and fact check to see is this the direction we want to go,” Councilor Greg Lemhouse said. “I think that’s very healthy.”
The risk assessment, which costs about $35,000 and is planned to be presented to the council in February 2018, will set the city back in terms of timeline, Brown said. The new plan, however, will still utilize research and studies done in the past, which has collectively cost the city more than $525,000.
“The work that we’ve done — we spent several years on this — looking at a water master plan that has yet finished and supplemental plan and siting studies … all of that is not going to be thrown away,” Brown said at the session. “We will reserve that.”
“But we fell in love with our plan, and that’s what we used to say in Iraq, ‘Don’t fall in love with your plan,’ ” she continued, referring to her time in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005 to 2006, “Because you’ll chase the wrong decision.”
She said to halt the project was “a difficult decision,” but said “it’s the best thing to do for the community.”
When not working on capital projects in Ashland or on the road for the Transportation Commission, Brown spends her time on her vineyard and winery, Dana Campbell, which she co-owns with her husband, Patrick Flannery.
The couple settled in Ashland in the ‘90s. While her job took Brown across the country, Brown always comes back to Southern Oregon, and was always ready to serve the community.
“After I retired my Navy commitments,” she said, “I just wanted something to do — it was an opportunity for me to help.”
— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.