|By Dennis Persica, New Orleans Times-Picayune
Gretna Police Chief B.H. Miller Jr. announced Wednesday that he will not run for re-election this year, ending a nearly 80-year run during which either he or his father has served as the city's top law-enforcement officer.
"I think I'll quit while I'm ahead," Miller said in an interview with The Times-Picayune. "It's been a hell of a good run."
He said he tipped off members of the City Council and Mayor Ronnie Harris about his retirement. Harris, Councilman Ricky Templet, Gretna Chief Administrative Officer Susan Percle and Deputy Police Chief Arthur Lawson were at Gretna Police Department headquarters for Wednesday's announcement.
Miller, who will leave office at the end of June, said he will support Lawson in the April 2 election, when Gretna residents also will vote for mayor and City Council. A runoff in those races, if necessary, will be April 23, and the new slate of officials will be sworn in July 1.
"I don't know exactly how I'm going to feel as a lame duck," Miller joked.
Five decades of service
Miller, who turned 78 over the weekend, was appointed police chief in 1979 by what was then the Gretna Board of Aldermen, a month after the death of his father, Beauregard H. "Burry" Miller Sr. At the time of his death on April 2, 1979, the senior Miller had served 53 years as police chief.
Besides ending his family's eight decades at the Police Department's helm, Miller's retirement will bring an end to his 50 years as an elected official.
Before his appointment as chief, Miller served 21 years on the Jefferson Parish Council and its precursor, the Jefferson Parish Police Jury.
He was born in 1927, two years after his father was elected chief. He said he used to ride around town with his father in a police car and received an honorary, unpaid police commission when he became an adult.
"I didn't get paid until I came back in 1979," Miller said. "I waited a long time before I got on the payroll."
Miller said he started thinking about his retirement in December.
"I just figured it's about time," he said.
"There are other ways I could have handled it," Miller said, hinting that he could have waited until qualifying for the elections opens Feb. 9.
"I didn't want to do it that way," he said. "I've been elected seven times to the council and seven times to the chief of police's spot. I think that I owed the people at least a notice as to whether I would seek another term or not."
Miller said he appreciated the support he has gotten from Gretna residents over the years.
"It's very difficult for me to put into words the gratitude I have for the people supporting me and voting for me all of these years," he said.
"What is that story, it takes a village to raise a child? Well, it takes a town to have a decent department. You have to have support from your people, support from other officials."
End of an era
Harris said Miller's retirement marks the end of an era, and he praised the chief for modernizing the department.
"If you look in City Hall, there's an old picture on the wall of a couple of squad cars and a handful of police officers," Harris said. Since that time the office has grown considerably and has improved its training, he said.
"I'd say now we're one of the top police offices in the state," Harris said.
Templet said he "grew up always hearing about the Millers and the chief and how much respect they had in the community."
"I think the community's going to have mixed emotions," Templet said. "It's a bittersweet feeling. We're going from one era to another."
Lawson, 50, said he joined the department Nov. 1, 1975, and worked a few years with Miller's father.
"Through my entire lifetime and career, there's been a Miller as chief of police," he said.
Miller is not the only longtime Gretna official who won't be seeking re-election in the spring. Councilman Salvadore "Sammy" Marchese Jr., who has served on the council and the Board of Aldermen for 25 years, has said he will not run for re-election.
"I hate to see him go," Marchese said about Miller. "We've been close; I never had disagreements with him."
Marchese said Miller was not the kind of person who would butt in on other people's business.
"But if it involved the city, the safety of the city, the people of the city, he was always vocal about it," Marchese said.
He credited the chief with helping the city attract new residents.
"People come to Gretna because it's safe," Marchese said.
Councilman Wayne Rau said the legacy of the two Millers' time in office is something "that's going to be looked upon as a model for other cities."
"He has really meant so much to the city," Rau said. "The city was in the forefront of every decision he's ever made.
"I hate to see the chief retire, but I think he's tired," Rau said. "I think he sees this as an opportune time to pass the torch on."
Councilman Vincent Cox III, who sits next to Miller during council meetings, said it will be different without Miller around.
"For the past 19 years I've been in office, he's always been there over my right shoulder at the council meetings," he said. "I'm definitely going to miss him."
Miller said Lawson will be the "odds-on favorite" to win the election if he draws any opponents.
"If he's not, there's something wrong with both of us," Miller added.
Miller said he enjoyed his time both on the Parish Council and as police chief.
"I had a whole lot more good times than I did bad," he said.
"The years went by in a hurry," Miller said. "I hope and I like to think that I counted for something."