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Medina sheriff brings varied experience to post

12/27/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Thomas Miller, a Brunswick resident, will begin serving as Medina County sheriff Jan. 7.
Photo courtesy of the Medina County Sheriff’s Office
MEDINA COUNTY — Newly elected Medina County Sheriff Thomas Miller said he plans to continue the work of his predecessor and work with local officials to ensure a smooth transition in Granger and Sharon townships.

“The challenges there are to continue to maintain the quality of services and work well with the fire chiefs and trustees,” Miller said.

The longtime lawman was sworn in at a formal ceremony Dec. 20 but officially takes office Jan. 7. Current Sheriff Neil Hassinger is retiring after serving since 1997.

Miller, 63, said he’s looking forward to the job.

“I’m very excited, for it’s a substantial responsibility,” he said. “I’m replacing a good man and I want to continue the good works he does. There will be different twists to it, but it’s all meant to provide the best to the citizens we serve.”

Miller is a Cleveland native who grew up in Parma. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he began his career as a policeman in Brunswick and has lived there with his family since 1974.

While serving on the force, Miller and one of his colleagues also worked as substitute teachers in the Brunswick City Schools District, and eventually worked part-time as home tutors with students who could not attend school due to various issues.

“They gave us kids that were a little more challenging” because they were police officers, he said. “I ended up dealing with students such as one who had shot a teacher. Another kid I ended up with, they had held him in the county jail until there was a separate facility for him.”

Their service was so valuable that one of the administrators remarked that she would love for the two officers to be able to work with students with behavioral issues. The idea seemed like a good one, so the officers wrote up a proposal to share the job and it was approved. Miller, who already had a degree in sociology, took courses to become certified as a special education teacher. He and his colleague shared the position for five years, then Miller took a job as a crisis-prevention specialist with the district.

Having the presence of law enforcement officers in the schools was a positive thing, he said.

“Kids would approach us and say, ‘My dad beats my mom and I don’t know what to do about it,’ or ‘My friend is considering suicide,’” he said. “We were getting input into other things. It shows there was a melding of responsibilities between law enforcement and educators.”

Miller eventually moved into the Sheriff’s Office and originally worked there from 1997 to 2007, rising to the rank of chief deputy. He then worked as director of protective services at MetroHealth System until 2011, when he returned to the Sheriff’s Office to once again serve as chief deputy.

Along the way, Miller also was elected to Brunswick City Council in 1992 and served there until 2003.

While his experience has been far reaching, Miller said his main interests always were in law enforcement.

“I thought it was a way of helping people but also a way of doing something exciting and fun,” he said.

The idea of running for sheriff is something he considered during the last election, but he said Hassinger, who, like Miller, is a Republican, wasn’t ready to leave office.

Miller said the department he is inheriting is in good shape.

“I’m inheriting a department that is smaller than it was four or five years ago, but that’s the reality most are having to face,” said Miller, who just completed two weeks of training for newly elected sheriffs in Columbus. “The officers and the court officials, sworn law enforcement officers and civilian employees have been working harder, but I like to think smarter, too.”

He’s proud of the county’s jail, which is one of just six in the state that is accredited through the Bureau of Adult Detention. He credits the attitude of the jail’s staff for that.

“I came in last night because our Catholic lay ministers were doing Mass for inmates,” he said. “They said these officers here work so hard to help. A majority of the officers have an attitude that they are making a difference, and that’s part of the function of a jail. It’s punitive in nature, but there are opportunities here to get GEDs or mental health assistance, and there are drug and alcohol counselors here. We can’t say we haven’t provided these people a place in the system to get assistance to do better in the world.”

While Miller does feel the department is doing a good job, he did say he plans to make a few changes in his first year on the job.

“There are three things I said I would do,” he said. “One is to review our administrative structure, and some changes will take effect quickly. I’m also going to look into our hiring process.”

He said he also plans to put together a citizens’ review board made up of individuals who understand budgets and can evaluate how well the department is providing services.

“The first year on the job the challenge is there’s a new sheriff in town, and what does that mean to relationships,” he said. “I believe in the township form of government and want to serve as best as possible. The fire chiefs and EMAs [emergency management agencies] are our partners. I believe we have to continue to live within our budget and find creative ways like grant writing to do things to provide quality services to improve if we can.”

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