Mills’ campaign focuses on community service
By St. Clair Murraine
There is nothing routine about Tommy Mills’ days since his retirement about six months ago.
It’s not because he’s so involved in so many of the traditional activities that retirees often choose, either. Forget the fishing, hunting, golfing or even just hanging out with the boys.
Mills’ quest to become the next Leon County Sheriff keeps him too busy for him to settle down. One minute he might be called to participate in an impromptu press conference. He might even be asked to speak to a community organization, give a motivational talk to children or be part of a forum.
Then, there is the door-to-door campaigning to do.
But no matter how tiring his schedule and the pressures of being involved in one of the most heated campaigns against three other candidates gets, Mills always has a broad smile.
It’s real, his friends say. It’s been his way since he was a boy.
Mills, 60, will tell you that smile and his humble demeanor shouldn’t be misconstrued for weakness. Especially when it comes to his ability to take charge in the position that he is seeking to lead the highest law enforcement arm in Leon County.
“Strength is not in making a whole bunch of noise and blowing a whole bunch of smoke,” Mills said, responding to concern about how his demeanor could be perceived. “It’s not in the talk; it’s in the leadership.”
Mills almost had no choice but to learn early how to be a leader. His father set the example in their household and his childhood friends saw it in the leadership qualities that he demonstrated.
He is also compassionate, too, said Becky Dickey, who attended the now defunct Lake McBride School with Mills. That compassion and a law enforcement career that spans more than 30 years makes him a qualified candidate, she said.
“We need to have some leaders that really care about others; not so much for themselves and what they can get out of being in a particular job but what that job can use you to do to make somebody else’s life better,” Dickey said. “I know that is what he desires so greatly. I know Tommy Mills can make a difference.”
Mills developed a passion for community work long before he decided to work as a volunteer officer with the Florida High Patrol. The two years he spent with FHP during the mid-1980’s influenced his decision to get into law enforcement.
He eventually gave up on a budding career as an auto mechanic to pursue his passion for law enforcement. He spent 24 years as a Leon County deputy sheriff. He spent the last decade as a Gadsden County major overseeing criminal investigations.
Mills created several initiatives for improvements in the workplace when he was with the Leon County Sheriff’s office. He also was the driving force behind the start up of a work camp program for inmates.
Mills said he’d like to see more preventative programs for young people, questioning why Leon County schools no longer have Drug Abuse Resistance Education. He’d like to see that program return along with other progressive programs to deter youth crimes, he said.
“Our kids are that important,” Mills said. “We can’t subject to chance that they are going to err on the side of right.”
The current campaign against incumbent Mike Wood, former Tallahassee police chief Walt McNeil and retired sheriff deputy Charlie Strickland has at times been contentious. The field was facing a primary, but that changed when each – except McNeil –decided to change how they qualified.
Mills, a Democrat, skirted the August primary when he qualified with no party affiliation. Wood made a similar switch and as a result he and Strickland, who earlier entered as a no party candidate, fills out the four-man field for the general elections.
“I like my chances,” Mills said. “I’m a community man. Let the people decide. We are running to serve. Not for any other reason.”
While Mills mustered 33 percent of the votes in his first attempt to win the top sheriff job in 2008, he said it was the finish in 2012 when he went head-to-head against Larry Campbell that motivated him to try again. Mills lost that race by 2 percent of the votes against Campbell, who died in office in 2014.
But this is a wide opened race that will come down to the general elections. Voters will ultimately make the right choice, he said, from one most crowded field in several decades.
“It allows the people to look at everybody. At the end of the day you are looking for who can take what we have and turn it around. Voting for a name won’t do it, but voting for someone who cares about the community can turn the tables and make a difference.”