New Tyler city attorney first woman in post

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Deborah Pullum doesn't have a special story about what made her want to become a lawyer.

"I'd always known," Mrs. Pullum said of wanting to be an attorney. "I remember being 10 or 11 years old, and that's all I ever said to my parents. I don't know where it came from; I just always knew."

Now, after nearly two decades of law, she is serving as Tyler's first female city attorney, a post she took over in June.


The path to becoming a lawyer took a little longer than she imagined.

Mrs. Pullum, 50, was born in New Mexico and grew up in Southern California before "returning" to Texas when she was 12. She had visited family in Tyler, where her parents were from, during the summers and always considered Texas home.

She attended Stewart Middle School and John Tyler High School before earning an academic scholarship to Florida A&M University, where she studied business. While in Florida, she met her husband of nearly 30 years, Ronald Pullum, who attended Florida State University.


After college, the two married and moved to Wyoming for Pullum's first move in the U.S. Air Force. He worked as an Air Force Missileer, then in emergency management rescue and recovery. During his 12 years in the military, the family moved to California, Illinois and Virginia.

Mrs. Pullum was accepted to law school in Wyoming but didn't want to start it without being able to finish there, she said. By the time they moved to California, she had young sons so she continued to wait. Once in Illinois, stationed about 30 minutes from St. Louis, she was accepted into law school there just before her husband was transferred to Virginia, she said.

She ended up earning her law degree from Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1996. About the same time she graduated, her husband got out of the military, and they decided to move to Tyler.

Mrs. Pullum said there is "no better place to raise a family" than Tyler.

Pullum took a supervisory job at Goodyear and now works as a materials supervisor for Carrier Corp. They have three sons, Ronald Pullum II, 26, Rainer, 25, and Rezzin, 18.

Mrs. Pullum began her legal career by interning/volunteering at the City Attorney's Office in Tyler, hoping to land a job there. But the city didn't have an opening, so she went to work for the Smith County District Attorney's Office in 1997.

She said she never thought about being a criminal lawyer but believes there is no better training for a young lawyer than in the district courts. That adversarial training received at the beginning "makes you better in your career," she said.

After seven years at the training grounds of the DA's Office, some people thought Mrs. Pullum would become a career prosecutor. But she was always looking and always had the City Attorney's Office in the back of her mind, she said.

There typically aren't too many openings for city attorneys, but when someone retired, she jumped at the opportunity to join the city in 2004. She began her career as assistant city attorney before being promoted to senior city attorney.

Being a city attorney is an "odd kind of duck," Mrs. Pullum said. "A lot of people don't know what we do."

She enjoys water and environmental law, contracting, police enforcement and fire, development services, building, transit and "all those different areas I get to twirl my fingers in and get to learn about in the community I live in," she said. "It's always something new. Every week you can come into work and there's a whole new area of law you might not have had. … That's the exciting part about it."

The four attorneys work with 26 different departments and are legal counsel for each of them. A good portion of their work is preventative law, making sure each department is following regulatory requirements specific to the service they provide.

They also do a lot of contract law, working to ensure the city is protected and getting what it needs from others. The attorneys also defend the city against lawsuits, but, she said, there fortunately haven't been many lawsuits filed against the city because of the preventative law they do.

Becoming the city attorney wasn't Mrs. Pullum's vision when she began working for the office. Taking the assistant city attorney job was about being able to find another outlet to learn different kinds of law other than criminal, she said.

After four or five years there, she began to see the opportunity of becoming a city attorney, but she wanted to stay in Tyler. "I'm blessed and lucky that the opportunity came up here," she said.

Mrs. Pullum was appointed to city attorney in June, replacing Gary Landers. She said Landers is serving as "of counsel" until he officially retires next year but she has already taken over the position. Having him remain with the city for another year is a great way to transition into the role, she said.

"I really, really like my job here," she said.


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