Debra Allen: Paying It Forward for 34 Years

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When Corona del Mar resident and community leader Debra Allen moved to Newport Beach from Detroit with her parents while she was still in high school, she wasn’t exactly thinking about becoming the influential and respected community leader she is today.

Her parents opened a florist shop in town, and as the family sank their roots into Newport Beach, over the years the support of the community did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. This community support would eventually become the impetus that would compel Debra to give back by becoming a community volunteer leader, and fuel her desire to repay a community that embraced her and her family all those years ago.

Debra first began her volunteerism with the City of Newport Beach in 1978 when she was asked to serve on the Citizens Environmental Quality Advisory Committee (now EQAC). Shortly thereafter, she was appointed to the Planning Commission.

This is when her life took an interesting turn. Soon after her commission appointment, she says, “I realized I was making million-dollar decisions with other people’s money. That’s when I decided I should return to school and get my college degree.”

She attended UCI, majoring in Social Ecology with an emphasis in land use planning, and graduated in 1981. Still on the Planning Commission, she continued on with her education, enrolling in law school, graduating and passing the bar in 1985.

At that same time, the Corona del Mar Resident’s Association had just been formed, and Debra led the group as its chair for its first eight years, serving as the group’s vice president until just a week ago.

As a California government tort liability specialist, Debra’s career flourished, but she carefully accepted cases so as not to have any conflicts. In 2000, a group of councilmembers encouraged her to apply for a vacancy on the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission, where she served until 2008.

Having been on the California State Bar Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission for a few years and with her familiarity with the legal environment, in 2008 she decided it was time to apply for the Newport Beach Civil Service Board.

Today, Debra is the Chair of the five-member board tasked with hearing disciplinary appeals made by Newport Beach police, fire and lifeguard personnel. This board oversees the “exhausting of administrative remedies,” meaning that a lawsuit cannot be filed by a litigant for something like wrongful termination, unless the board approves such action. As she put it, ‘no small stuff!”

Indeed.

And these are just a smattering of her many accomplishments, which also include being married to her husband, Barry, for more than 37 years.

I asked Debra what she felt would most encourage residents to become involved in their community like she had and she pointed out, “People don’t realize how much of a difference they can make at the local level, no matter what area they decide to get involved with, the community benefits, they benefit.”

About the future of public service, she added, “I hope that people with good leadership qualities don’t get discouraged to volunteer because of all the negative press about the various levels of government. Local government is very different, and people can really make a difference by getting involved.”

Thank goodness Debra chose to get involved 34 years ago. Newport Beach is and will remain a great city because of people just like her who volunteer to serve our city with pride.

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