TARPON SPRINGS — A woman approached the youngest City Commission candidate.
"You wanted to get rid of the Tarpon Springs Police Department," he recalled her saying.
That wasn't true. But for voters who remember a bearded kid with a distrust of police, 22-year-old Tommy Frain has a new image to project.
"I want to show the city and the voters the other side of me," he said.
Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, a local group that he helped start, doesn't appear anywhere on his campaign website. He doesn't mention it in public introductions, but he doesn't shy away from talking about it when asked.
"It gets really confusing and hard to explain to people," he recently told the Tampa Bay Times.
As the co-founder of Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Frain encouraged people to video-record police traffic stops. He filed citizen complaints with Tarpon Police questioning the number of officers responding to traffic stops. He became entwined in a 2011 police internal investigation after his friend, William Kilgore, was arrested while the two were "cop watching."
But the recent University of South Florida graduate says that's all behind him now.
"I think I grew up a little bit and realized that we don't need to be going crazy about that," said Frain, who works as a server at Miss Vickie's on the River in Holiday.
Frain said he left the group a year ago, when he felt it strayed from its original mission of promoting accountability and became "a little too radical."
"I think I have a greater trust of the Police Department than I've ever had," he added.
The internal investigation, though an intense process, revealed a "human side" to the department, he said. And it prompted some additional police training.
"We'll take any and all criticisms of our agency," said police spokesman Capt. Jeff Young, who declined to speak directly about Frain. "We'll look at them and develop policies and procedures to strengthen the agency."
If elected to Commission Seat 4, Frain said he wouldn't have any bias against the Police Department.
"Nobody wants to put public safety at risk," he said. But he would still scrutinize the agency, along with all other city departments, for cost savings.
Cop-watching was never a passion, he says, just an issue that fell into his lap. He would rather voters see his enthusiasm for economics, his ideas for bringing businesses to town and his commitment to community service.
Supporter Adrian Wyllie, the Florida Libertarian Party chairman and gubernatorial candidate, phrased Frain's development like this: "Like anyone that age, he's matured a bit. His core principles haven't changed at all, which is something I think is important."
Although the commission seat he's vying for is nonpartisan, it's no secret that Frain is a Libertarian and a big proponent of personal liberties.
"He's a great guy who really stands up for what he believes in," Wyllie said, "and what he believes in is the rights of the people in Tarpon Springs and the people of Florida."
Standing up for what he believes in once got Frain arrested.
In July 2011, he joined Food Not Bombs in Orlando to give out food to the homeless in a public park — against a city ordinance that restricted group feedings.
A YouTube video from the event shows him in handcuffs. Later, when released from jail, he cheers when told he was in there the longest of all those detained from the feeding.
The mayor called the activists "food terrorists." Frain said he was enforcing what he believes to be a fundamental human right.
"I think it says that I would never vote for an ordinance that would be unconstitutional," he said. "It shows my moral character.
"I've never hid what I believe."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]