THE COMMISSIONER IS IN: McMillan Learning Ropes As New Ag & Industries Chief
By Debra Davis
Just one week into his new job as commissioner of
the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries,
John McMillan says the thing he's learned the
most is how much he has to learn.
|Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan
was surrounded by family members as he took his oath of
office on the capitol steps.|
"This department touches the lives of every Alabamian,"
McMillan said. "Ironically, even though we
are so closely identified and so closely associated with
agribusiness in the state, I think if you had to give a
brief summary of what this department does, it is food
safety and consumer protection."
From the scales that a pharmacist uses to measure
medicine, to gas pumps throughout the state, the
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries
regulates and monitors thousands of businesses in the
state. The enormous responsibility of the department
is still sinking in, McMillan said, but he pledged to
always keep the customers (Alabama's taxpayers) at
the forefront of each decision.
McMillan is known as a conservative leader and a
consensus builder, according to Alabama Farmers Federation
President Jerry Newby. "We look forward to working with Commissioner McMillan," Newby said. "Our organization stands
ready to work with him on any issue."
Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan said
members throughout the state are excited about working
with the commissioner as he reshapes the department.
"Commissioner McMillan is known for his strong
work ethic and attention to detail," Pinyan said. "And
his experience with the Legislature will serve his
department and the farmers of the state well."
McMillan said he is still reviewing all the areas
his department is responsible for, including the 349
employees who work there. "Of the department
employees, only about 150 of them work here in Montgomery
at the Beard Building," he said. "Others are
scattered around the state in various forms of inspectors
for food safety, weights and measures, pesticides
and in the four labs we operate."
McMillan said he expects his office to be faced with
layoffs from anticipated deep budget cuts caused by
declining state revenue. However, he's already taking
steps to save money in the department by cross-training
employees and cutting costs.
"Just this week I found out we could save more
than $10,000 by changing the way we do our internal
distribution of printed materials," McMillan said.
McMillan said his exact plans for the department
would be hard to shape until he knows what the budget
will be. Based on what newly elected Gov. Robert Bentley has said, the cuts may be significant and may
even force layoffs in the department, McMillan said.
"As I said during my campaign, I am very interested
in economic development, especially for rural
Alabama, and renewable energy which I think holds
a tremendous potential for our state," McMillan said.
"We will focus on those things, but our priority will be
providing services to the businesses and industries that
need us to survive, like those that require inspections
in order to sell their products. There are some tough
decisions to be made, but we're going to approach all
we do in a professional and business-like manner."
For example, McMillan said the owner of a nursery
couldn't sell his or her products out of state until
an employee of the department inspects them. If that
inspection can't be done, it could put that producer out
of business, he said.
"We're going to make sure that doesn't happen," he
added. "Those businesses and industries that depend
on us to survive are going to be a priority."
McMillan said he has asked department employees
to find ways to save money and provide more services.
"Nothing will be off the table when it comes to
looking at expenditures," he said. "We are going to do
whatever it takes to meet the needs of the people who
depend on us."
McMillan said his experience as a businessman and
government leader coupled with his strong work ethic
helped prepare him for the job.
He was born and raised on the family farm in the
little community of Stockton in north Baldwin County.
His first experience in politics was when former
Gov. Albert Brewer appointed him to a vacancy on the
Baldwin County Commission. Then, McMillan was
twice elected to the State House of Representatives,
eventually leaving that post to become Alabama Commissioner
of Conservation and Natural Resources during
former Gov. Fob James' first term. Later, he began
working at the Alabama Forestry Association as its
executive director until his retirement in 2006.
Although he admits he knows more about forestry
and wildlife than row crops, McMillan said he has
learned over the years that groups like the Alabama
Farmers Federation are a vital resource when it comes
to decisions facing the state's farmers and rural landowners.
"We will do the very best job we can for all the
farmers in the state to help them not just stay in business,
but to thrive," McMillan said. "Even with the
budget cuts we anticipate, I hope our office will be able
to help offer some low-interest rate loans for on-farm
water reservoirs. The biggest problem farmers have to
deal with is weather and water, and these reservoirs
hopefully could help take water out of those equations."
"I imagine a lot of people, and I know a lot of the
employees here, are surprised at my work ethic,"
McMillan said. "It started when I was growing
up in a sawmill, but Catherine and I have gotten
up at 5 o'clock in the morning for over 40 years
and we still do that. I try to get to work by 6 and
work until, (indicating there are no set hours
to end his day.) I guess a lot of people would be
surprised that I work as hard as I do. I also try to
recognize my limitations, which I think is one
thing that makes me work so hard. Working at
a sawmill is hard work and takes long hours.
I watched my father do that his entire life. It
wasn't a matter of wanting to; it was a matter of
having to, particularly if you run a small business."