BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — This is the third of three profiles of the candidates for Danvers selectman. Voters will elect two selectmen to serve three-year terms. The election is May 7.
DANVERS — David Mills may be best-known as a retired Massachusetts Appeals Court judge, but he describes himself as “a wharf rat from Danversport.”
Mills, whose home sits across Sylvan Street from Town Hall, can spin tales about a Danvers long gone. He remembers when the site of the Liberty Tree Mall was the former Mscisz Farm, where he learned how to milk cows.
With his long legal career in land use, Mills has a deep understanding of government to go along with his deep roots in town. Among other things, he was a former Middlesex assistant district attorney and worked in the state attorney general’s office in the 1970s.
In the mid-1970s, he established a law practice focused on urban land and its “use, misuse and reuse,” a role that brought him before many agencies and local government bodies.
After 11 years as an Appeals Court judge, Mills retired last year when he reached the mandatory retirement age.
As a judge, he had to give up town politics. With his retirement, however, the former town moderator has thrown his name into the hat for selectman.
“I want to reinvest myself in this town, which is really in a way the only hometown I’ve ever had. It is a place that is more than a hometown for me,” said Mills, who lives with his dog, an Australian Labradoodle named Honeybun.
Since he lives alone, being active in the community keeps him connected and relevant, he said.
Mills prides himself on a reputation for fairness as a judge, and he hopes to bring that to the role of selectman.
“I love the fact that while I was a judge for 11 years, people said, ‘You made me feel welcome in the courtroom,’” Mills said. As a judge, he told students who visited his courtroom that he worked for them.
“The law belongs to you, and unless you own it, someone is going to run away with it,” he said. “And, people in Danvers, I want to help them to continue to know that this Danvers belongs to you, this government belongs to you.”
Mills said he was at a recent Finance Committee hearing on the school budget and noticed tension between young families with children who favor more school spending and older residents who are also footing the bill for the schools. Both groups, he said, want students to succeed but may have different ideas of how to get there.
Mills said he wants to be careful about how the town spends on education.
Also, the cost of government nowadays “is astronomical to people who may be on Social Security, who may be on a fixed income, a modest retirement income.” Mills said he also understands the needs of government and wants “to try and listen carefully to try and let everyone in that mix know that their interests are being heard and respected.”
Growing up, he attended the former Tapley School and Richmond Junior High, then went on to St. John’s Prep and Boston College. He still visits his 99-year-old sixth-grade teacher, Ethel (Mack) Lee.
In 1965, his father, Frank, ran for moderator and held that post for 23 years.
Mills gets choked up when he thinks about the “private tutorial” his father gave to each of his five children with a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., when they were juniors in high school. There, father and son saw the sites, monuments and the Smithsonian, and it was from this trip that Mills gained an understanding of what government means to him.
When he was accepted at Boston College Law School, he was ambivalent about a career as a lawyer.
“It was the next available thing,” a way to put off the real world, he said. However, his first class in law school inspired him, and he said he knew he had made the right decision.
As a lawyer, he presented 2,000 cases to state and local government agencies, he said, and as a Town Meeting member and former moderator for several years, he’s had a “lot of interaction with government at many different levels.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
Occupation: Retired Massachusetts Appeals Court judge, 2001 to 2012. Now volunteers in alternate dispute resolution.
Education: St. John’s Prep; Boston College, 1964; Boston College Law School, 1967
Town involvement: Former Town Meeting member for 18 years, former Essex Aggie trustee, former town moderator.