01/09/2001

After 16 years of service sheriff retires
[St. Petersburg, FL]

Jamie Malernee
December 30, 2000, Saturday
Copyright 2000 Times Publishing Company
St. Petersburg Times
December 30, 2000, Saturday

(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) -- After 16 years at the helm, Tom Mylander tells his successor that the Sheriff's Office "belongs to the people."

As a sheriff's helicopter hovered overhead, retiring Sheriff Tom Mylander lifted his eyes toward the aircraft and gave one last farewell salute.

It was a fitting end to Friday's ceremony, which marked the conclusion of Mylander's 16 years as the county's top law enforcement officer and the passing of the torch to a new administration. Moments earlier, Mylander, 58, had handed incoming Sheriff Richard Nugent a new gold sheriff's badge.

"Just because it has your name on it doesn't mean it belongs to you," Mylander cautioned. "It belongs to the people."

Colleagues and friends who gathered to witness the changing of the guard said this statement reflected Mylander's typical selfless approach to public service. They described him as a man dedicated to fairness and justice who modernized the agency during a time of rapid growth in the community.

"We have a tremendous foundation to build upon because of what he put in place," Maj. Mike Hensley said. "I don't know if you can put what we're all feeling into words."

Mylander, however, had no difficulty expressing himself to the crowd of onlookers and rows of smartly dressed sheriff's employees, who wore their dress greens for the event.

"This is something we have been looking toward with mixed emotions," he said, taking the lectern. "In some ways it's gone very fast, and sometimes it was slow."

When tears threatened, Mylander dismissed his visible emotions with a joke.

"It's the cold weather," he said, to which the crowd laughed.

In making his final goodbyes, Mylander thanked all the employees of the Sheriff's Office and stressed that they helped make his success as sheriff possible. He made special note of Chief Deputy Don Shields, who also officially retired Friday after more than three decades in law enforcement.

"Any who thinks he can do (this job) alone is sadly mistaken," Mylander said.

Mylander added that he had great confidence in Nugent, his elected successor and protege. Nugent, who officially takes office Tuesday, said he was touched by the public display of support and saddened by Mylander's departure.

"When he gave me the star pin he wore, it was really emotional," Nugent said. "The realization is really hitting me. This is it. This is the end. He's not going to be at work on Tuesday, and that's a big void."

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