By Melinda Munson
Skagway residents might remember a young Paula Taylor Vrana constantly riding her bay mare, Candy, back and forth between her grandmothers’ houses.
“Their house was my house, Vrana said. We didn’t knock on the door — we just burst in.”
Now Vrana’s home is a horse and cattle farm in Wasilla, and the attorney’s direct boss is Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Named commissioner of administration for the State of Alaska on Sept. 30, Vrana described her department as “complex.”
“We really provide the support for all the other departments,” Vrana said.
This includes computer assistance, payroll, travel services, retirement benefits, labor relations and a host of other responsibilities. The Department of Administration also houses the Public Defender Agency and the Office of Public Advocacy.
“Commissioner Vrana will be a steady hand at the wheel of a department that manages a wide range of complex and critical administrative services and programs in state government,” said Dunleavy. “From the Public Defenders Agency to the Department of Motor Vehicles, she has the experience and judgement to keep state government running smoothly.”
The daughter of Paul and Denise Taylor, Paula remembers growing up before Skagway became a cruise ship destination. Vrana said she was a horse lover since she “was old enough to know what a horse was.” Her grandfather bought Candy first, and asked Paula’s parents permission later. Candy went off to college with Paula, and the equine still lives with Paula today.
In her early 40s, Candy “must be one of the oldest horses in the state,” Vrana said.
Growing up, Vrana didn’t know any lawyers in Skagway. She described herself as a “dedicated and strong” student. She enjoyed reading and writing. With the encouragement of her parents, becoming an attorney “seemed like a natural progression.”
Vrana graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Boise University and was awarded a law degree from the University of Idaho.
She eventually became the managing attorney at the law firm of Brena, Bell and Clarkson and served as executive director of Hospice of Anchorage and Chief Executive Officer of Copper River Native Association.
Vrana first came to work at the Department of Administration in January of 2019 when she was named deputy commissioner. She cited the budget as the department’s most difficult challenge.
“We’re working as hard as we can with the resources we have,” she said.
Vrana said her vision is to move forward with “small and steady steps in creating efficiencies and cost savings” while “striving to improve customer service.”
Vrans is looking forward to visiting Skagway once the pandemic is over.
“There are so many people that touched my life, not just my family,” she said.
“Even after 20 years of being away, I still consider Skagway my home. The gifts of a small town are amazing.”