Thomas Mills: General Counsel of the New Mexico Tourism and Economic Development Departments

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					GCC PROFILE                                                                                      1. 800.973.1177

                             Thomas Mills: General Counsel of the New Mexico
                             Tourism and Economic Development Departments
                             [By Jen Woods]
                             Television isn’t always a bad influence on kids. Just look at Thomas Mills, who credits television shows about lawyers,
                             like Perry Mason , for steering him toward the right career path. Today, Mills is the General Counsel of both the New
                             Mexico Tourism Department and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

Mills set his sights on becoming a lawyer            “When a governor asks you to help him, you       given day. The variety in his daily routine
in elementary school. “I decided I wanted            do your best to do so. I had the advantage of    is one of the most appealing aspects
to be a lawyer in the fifth grade, and no            having previously served as General Counsel      of the job, he said. On a regular basis,
one ever talked me out of it!” he said. So           for the then Energy and Minerals Department      Mills provides legal advice to the cabinet
it certainly wasn’t a surprise that Mills            after moving to New Mexico in 98,” Mills       secretaries, deputy secretaries, and
wound up attending law school. “By the               said. Governor Richardson appointed Mills        other senior managers. He also provides
time college rolled around, I was aware of           General Counsel for both state agencies in       advice on labor and employment legal
the many contributions lawyers have made             July 2006.                                       issues. In addition, he reviews and drafts
to our democratic society-from drafting the                                                           all major contracts, supervises public
U.S. Constitution to fighting for civil rights,”     Since Mills oversees the legal departments       record requests, helps staff boards and
Mills said.                                          of two state agencies, he must be prepared       commissions, and participates in rule-
                                                     to handle a wide array of issues on any          making proceedings, he said.
Before joining New Mexico Governor Bill
Richardson’s administration as General                                                                Right now, Mills is handling legal issues
Counsel, Mills spent 23 years in private practice,
                                                       Advice to Young Lawyers                        surrounding the state’s $225 million-dollar
7 of which he spent as a shareholder in his own       An aspiring in-house attorney                  spaceport. New Mexico will soon be home
firm, Potter & Mills, P.A.                             should “combine private practice               to the nation’s first commercial spaceport,
                                                                                                      known as Spaceport America. Once the
                                                       with service as a public lawyer;
Mills later transitioned from private practice                                                        project is complete, individuals will be able
                                                       the private perspective and
to in-house work. Governor Richardson                                                                 to buy tickets to fly into outer space. The
appointed him Deputy Cabinet Secretary                 experience will be invaluable,”                first 00 passengers have already paid fees
of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals,                    Mills said.                                    of $200,000 each to make the trip.
and Natural Resources Department in
January 2003. While working for the 500-               Specialization is also key, even               “There are lots of legal issues to be worked
member agency, Mills was responsible                   though in-house lawyers typically              through to make this happen,” Mills said.
for matters involving regulation of the                                                               Construction of the spaceport began in April
                                                       handle a wide range of legal
oil and gas industry, mining reclamation,                                                             2004 on 27 square miles of state-owned
                                                       issues. “Seek a position where
renewable and alternative energy initiatives,                                                         desert. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic
transportation of radioactive materials, and           you can develop your expertise in              plans to launch its first flight from the
state forestry.                                        a particular area of the law that              spaceport in 2009.
                                                       interests you, knowing you will
After Mills had worked at the state                    also have to know about a range                Mills recently assembled a team to draft
department for three and a half years,                                                                and negotiate a 7,000-acre ground lease
                                                       of subject areas,” he said.
Governor Richardson approached him with                                                               with New Mexico’s State Land Office. “The
an offer. He was given “the opportunity                                                               legal needs of this project will include an EIS
                                                       “Being interested in and knowing
to essentially create a law department for                                                            [Environmental Impact Statement], federal
two state agencies while supporting very               a lot about how government and                 licensing, design and construction contracts,
interesting and important agency agendas,”             politics work are career assets,”              commercial leases, water rights, public
he said.                                               Mills added.                                   financing, and others,” he added.

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GCC PROFILE                                                                                1. 800.973.1177

Mills also oversees legal issues pertaining    fundraisers, creating a network of support        ON THE NET
to the New Mexico Sports Authority, the        within the community, and developing a
New Mexico Film Office, the Off-Highway        lobbying strategy for the bill.                   New Mexico Tourism Department
Vehicle Safety Board, and the Small Business                                           
Regulation Commission.                         Throughout his career, Mills has played an
                                               important role in state legislation lobbying.     New Mexico Economic Development
Over the last 20 years, Mills has been         He successfully lobbied for the Constitutional    Department
involved in many public policy initiatives.    Amendment for Economic Development      
For instance, he served as the Richardson      (994), the Local Economic Development
administration’s point person for the Land,    Act (994), the Rapid Rail Right-of-Way           University of California, Hastings, College of
Wildlife, and Clean Energy Act during          Acquisition (992), and the Finance Authority     the Law
the 2006 legislative session. The bill         Act (990).                             
proposed to dedicate state funding to the
preservation of farms and ranches, as well     Mills said he is happy to have found a job that
as conservation and clean energy projects.     focuses on the intersection of law and policy.
Mills’ responsibilities included organizing    “I’ve always been interested in public policy
                                               and politics,” he added.


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Description: Thomas Mills, the general counsel of the new mexico tourism and economic development departments works on legal project which includes environmental impact statement.
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