October 25, 2006

An Emotional Farewell Trustee Won't Run for Re-Election

For years, Greenport Village Trustee Jamie Mills has been running. Whether engaged in an election race or lacing up his running shoes for an upcoming marathon, Mills has been a man in perpetual motion.

But at last week's village board meeting, Mills announced that, in at least one area of his life, the finish line is in sight: After 13 years as a member of the Greenport Village Board of Trustees, he will not be running for re-election in March.

At last week's meeting, Mills said he had two announcements that, on the surface, seemed diametrically opposed. "My first announcement is that I am running. The second is that I am not running."

Mills read excerpts from a donation appeal regarding his participation in the 2006 ING New York City Marathon, to be held on November 5. Mills plans to complete 26.2 miles under the auspices of Fred's Team, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's marathon program geared toward raising funds for cancer research.

It was a tearful moment for Mills, a two-time cancer survivor. "I believe I am here today and physically able to run this race because of the efforts of the MSK organization."

Since The Independent first announced Mills' intention to run under the MSK umbrella in August, his valiant dedication to a life-saving cause has garnered over $46,000, making Mills the number-one fundraiser for Fred's Team this year.

Because Mills was overcome with emotion, Greenport Mayor David Kapell stepped in and finished reading his statement, announcing that on March 20, 2007, Mills would not be on the ballot.

The decision was not a total surprise: During his 2003 campaign, Mills said, if re-elected, his plan was to "call it quits after one more term," pointing out that 13 years was "enough time to do a few things for the betterment of the village," including overseeing the completion of Mitchell Marina and the tall ship dock.

"I hope I have fulfilled my promises," he said.

Originally appointed to replace Trustee Vicky Sorenson, Mills was the first member of his family — longtime Greenport residents whose canvas business, Wm. J. Mills & Co., has deep roots in the community – to serve on the village board. "With its unique character, Greenport has always been a place for people to come to, not pass through."

Mills made a lasting mark on the village canvas; during his stint as trustee, Greenport was transformed from a sleepy community with shuttered shops and a sluggish economy into a vibrant East End tourist destination.

When Mills first took office, the village had only one computer. Mills worked to computerize village operations and upgrade accounting systems. In addition, Mills spearheaded initiatives such as Greenport's emergency management plan and a harbor management plan, which was incorporated into the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan; he also successfully completed the tall ship dock and transient marina projects.

Mills admitted affecting change wasn't always easy in small-town minds. "People are resistant to change. But Greenport was going to change, whether any of us who grew up here liked it or not. I consider myself lucky that my tenure as trustee allowed me to help manage that change."

Over the years, Mills said the credo of former Trustee John Costello resonated: "Don't talk about it – just get it done."

But getting it done wasn't always without difficulty. During his tenure, there were two "agonizing moments." The first involved the board's decision to hold a public referendum regarding abolishment of the Greenport Police Department.

Mills also took the heat for his stance on a Greenport Fire Department pension, which he opposed. "Look up the definition of a volunteer – it's one who gives freely of their time." As a fireman for more than 25 years, Mills disagreed with a paid pension plan and "took a lot of abuse."

Despite opposition, Mills remained true to his convictions. "The overriding rule is you've got to be able to look in the mirror in the morning."

Mills has seen his own reflection transformed because of public service. Once, said Mills, he was one of many village residents caught up in a tide of negativity, believing, "It can't be done."

Today, residents share a can-do attitude, something Mills credits to Kapell's efforts toward creativity.

With only five months to go, Mills has few regrets. He would have liked to have seen the architecture at Mitchell Park developed with a New England influence.

Before he leaves office, Mills hopes to transform the Third St. North Ferry staging area into a more efficient workable design.

The time is right, said Mills, for him to say farewell. "It's been a good run. We've written a chapter, left a legacy. We're going out on top."

Kapell said he is "still mulling over a decision" over whether or not to run again in March.

For the next trustee, Mills has words of wisdom: "Expect to do a lot of reading and thinking. Be ready to make the difficult decision." And, perhaps most important, the words that have shaped Mills' entire approach to public office: "Make sure your heart and soul are into it."

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