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Municipal mavens made their mark on community

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Two women who have devoted a combined 37 years of service to their Denton County communities retiried in the same week and they will be greatly missed.

Flower Mound Town Secretary Paula Paschal’s last official day was Aug. 31 after serving Flower Mound for 15 years. And, on Sept. 3, Sue Thompson retired following 22 years of service in Highland Village, the majority of which has been as the city’s economic development manager.

Although they work for different municipal governments, they met in 1991 when Paschal moved from her job in Richardson to become Highland Village’s first full time city secretary. Since then, the two women have remained close friends, sharing holidays and family events.

“I’ve loved sewing since I was in the fifth grade,” said Paschal. “I made Sue’s daughter’s wedding dress and I have my own business – PJP Gifts – sewing gift bags and purses.”

Thompson originally signed-on as a part-time staffer in July 1988 replacing a Highland Village employee on maternity leave, who then decided not to return.

“Back when I started, the city had only a total of 50 employees and we all wore lots of different ‘hats,’” said Thompson. “I did staff timecards, building and inspection permits and all sorts of other things. I was even a certified animal-control officer.”

She was appointed staff liaison to the city’s planning and zoning committee and eventually as the city’s community development manager 11 years ago.

“Back in the ‘80s, North Texas growth was mainly residential,” said Thompson. “I’d issue over 100 building permits every month.”

It was also then that the city council, mayor and administrative staff took the time to peer into the future and recognize that retail development around the intersection of FM 2499 and 407 was going to happen. Highland Village wanted top-of-the-line retailers to end-up in its corral and put gaining sales tax revenue through economic development as a top priority.

To that end, the city passed ordinances and created development overlays to make sure developers had a smooth bureaucratic ride. Then, the eight landowners – most of whom already had their property for sale – needed to be persuaded to reach the same vision for the area.

“I’d known those eight people for a long time,” said Thompson. “It’s to their credit that they saw that all of them participating would be a win-win-win situation for them, the city and the developers.”

When Wal-Mart came knocking on the city’s doors six years ago, Thompson and city leaders were ready.

“We let them know that we were interested, but our building standards meant they were going to have to build a brick and stone building, not their usual big blue box,” said Thompson.

“But, the Wal-Mart people knew that and they totally re-designed – actually flipped – their design to save what is now known as ‘the million-dollar tree.’ The goodwill they built with our city has proven to be a great investment.”

As the founder of the Highland Village Business Association (HVBA) in 1996, Thompson already had long-standing relationships with many members, which laid a shared investment in the city’s future. The retail development of Highland Village is at just under total build-out with about two million square feet. The coming together of Sue Thompson and the North Texas building boom was serendipitous.

“Sue and I have been close friends for the last 30 years and we worked well together in support of Highland Village and our businesses,” said Pat Falcon, assistant vice president and community development officer for the Wells Fargo Bank Highland Village.

“Together, we initiated the Christmas Open House for Highland Village. Wells Fargo provided the location; Sue brought the fun.”

“She has truly been an integral part of the transition of Highland Village from a small, rural town into a suburban full service city,” said City Manager Michael Leavitt. “The past ten years knowing and working with Sue – as an employee, colleague and friend – has been my pleasure. Sue is a true Texan, who has always treated everyone fairly. By displaying her Texas hospitality with her classic hug, her big smile and her firm handshake, you always knew where you stood with her, or with the Highland Village development process.”

“I’ve never been afraid to tell people I don’t know the answer to a question, but that I’ll find it,” said Thompson.

She credits Leavitt with teaching her the most important lesson she learned in her 22 years of service.

“He taught me not to take it personally if the council or a committee rejected one of my proposals,” she said. “It took me awhile not to get my feelings hurt, but eventually I saw he was right.”

The developers and retail property managers based in the city are also Thompson fans.

“Sue makes wearing many hats seem effortless, but anyone who knows her can only guess how many tireless hours she has spent counseling, playing referee, coordinating projects and implementing a myriad of tasks,” said Liesl Elliott, senior property manager of The Shops at Highland Village.

In her guise as Flower Mound’s City Secretary fifteen years ago, Paula Paschal went from working north of FM 407 to its southern side and a reincarnation as the town’s chief wrangler for what some people have categorized as a “cat roundup.”

The cast of political personalities and changing political atmosphere demanded a professional administrator to ensure coordination within the Flower Mound three-ring municipal circus.

The town secretary’s office is the document and information resource to the town council, all town departments and the citizens. Her job involves creation and storage of meeting agendas, legislation documents, meeting transcription and minutes, petitions and coordinating the schedule of the mayor and town council and committee members.

“I credit Paula with a lot of Flower Mound’s success,” said former mayor Jody Smith.
“She was always a true professional, detail-oriented and balanced many hats gracefully. And, as anyone who knows me knows it’s no easy thing, she made sure I got to all the things I needed to attend.”

Paschal also served as the town’s liaison with the Flower Mound Chamber of Commerce.

“She is one of the most giving, focused and determined individuals and always focuses on others needs first,” said Bill Collins, former president of the chamber.

“She loves to give and make others happy. She was well-deserving of the chamber’s Citizen of the Year Award for 2008 after all her years of contributing to others. With Paula, what you see is what you get; she has no hidden agendas. I can’t think of enough words to describe what a wonderful person she is.”

Paschal and Thompson both point to their daily interaction with the public and fellow staff members as the most rewarding aspects of their jobs; as well as what they’ll miss most.

“I enjoy the people of Flower Mound and how involved they all are in their community,” said Paschal. “I’ve worked for four mayors and what I learned from them that it’s rewarding to treat people nicely and with respect. It follows a saying my husband and I have: ‘This ain’t no dress rehearsal and you never know when you might get hit by the big bus.’”

In keeping with their personalities, both women have plans for their post-retirement futures that involve their families, all of whom live in North Texas.

“My husband, Sam, and I have four children and eight grandkids ranging in age from almost one-year to 14-years old. To them I’m ‘Mimi’ and we have regular ‘cousin camps’ with them,” said Paschal.

She and Sam, who’s semi-retired, plan on doing some traveling as well as her plan to increase her sewing.

“I’ll be working with the early voting for LISD, so I’ll s
till be here,” said Paschal. “I’ll also continue on as an honorary chamber member as well as being on the board for the Lake Lewisville Symphony. I started playing piano in the third grade and I love music.”

“It is impossible to measure what Paula has done for the town,” said Jean Levenick, a fellow sewer and former town councilwoman. “Her commitment to the residents of Flower Mound speaks volumes about the kind of person she is; a consummate professional, a confidant, a friend, a shoulder to lean on and a true leader. I wish her the best in her retirement and can’t wait to see her ‘Mimi-mobile’ on the other side.”

Thompson and her husband, Bob, have a 50-acre pine tree farm in DeKalb on which they planted 5,000 pine trees in 2007.

“It really doesn’t seem that long, except that now my kids have kids,” said Thompson of her 22 years.

Like her friend Paula, Thompson and Bob plan to do some traveling.

“We own an RV and the great thing about growing trees is that they don’t need to be milked or tended.”

At the city’s Aug. 24 city council meeting, Mayor Scott McDearmont recognized Thompson’s retirement by read a proclamation designating Sept. 1, 2010 as Sue Thompson Day in Highland Village.

For the Town of Flower Mound, Michael Ryan, director of community relations said:
“Paula is leaving behind some awfully big shoes to fill. She always represented the town with poise, grace, and professionalism. Her absence will be felt in Town Hall, at the Chamber of Commerce, in the legislative community, and throughout Denton County.”

 It has been a pleasure working with Sue,” said Bobbie Mitchell, Denton County Commissioner, Precinct 3. “She is truly the epitome of what customer service is all about.  If you want something done, give it to Sue, not only will she do her part, she will help you do your part.  I am truly going to miss her!”

The many people who have relied on Sue and Paula all agree.

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