After 10 years, two mayors and numerous City Council members, Miami Gardens has lost one of its founding leaders, Danny Crew, who decided to end his run as the city’s first and only City Manager since its incorporation.
He was involved in the city’s early days — aiding in lowering the city’s debt and establishing an organizational structure. When he started, Crew said, the city was operating all of its accounts out of a single checkbook and noted that he was nervous because so many of the city’s revenue sources required multiple accounts.
“I was sure I was going to go to jail, money’s an easy way to get yourself in trouble,” said Crew.
The city was able to reduce its debt to Miami-Dade County to about $3.5 million from $11 million, Crew said.
Crew, 66, worked on key milestones for the city, such as starting the city’s parks department, establishing the police force in 2007 and dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
“The best thing about Dr. Crew was that he was always behind the desk,” Mayor Oliver Gilbert said. “If the city was on fire, he was at his desk. If there was a hurricane outside, he was going to be at his desk — he was going to answer the phone.”
Crew credited his early staff members and assistants who crammed with him into a small office, and worked long hours, before moving into the current City Hall. Councilwoman Lillie Odom said it had more to do with his passion for even the smallest details.
“When he was designing the logo for the police cars, he was so excited about that,” Odom said. “He went through several different designs, when we said ‘Oh we like that one,’ he was so happy.”
Stepping in to replace Crew as City Manager is Cameron Benson, who last served as a city manager in Hollywood. Benson will begin on an interim basis and be appointed to the position after his contract is finalized.
Benson quit his previous job as manager in Hollywood after nine years, back in 2011. He was criticized for disclosing that the city had a $10.3 million dollar deficit only a month before the next year’s budget had to be finalized. Despite this, Crew supports his replacement.
“They blamed him for the city’s economic problem,” Crew said. “I’ll accept that if they blame him for the other 8 or 9 million cities in the nation that had economic problems. I don’t believe he was the one who crashed Wall Street, as far as I know.”
Gilbert said he believes Benson can “handle anything thrown at him,” and Odom agrees although she admitted he isn’t entering the position with the same “seasoning” as Crew.
“When you look at 10 years ago and the experience Danny Crew had and you look at Cameron there’s absolutely no comparison,” Odom said. “The majority of his experience is in planning while Danny had an array of experience.”
Though Crew entered the position after serving as City Manager in Gastonia, N.C. and had over 20 years of experience in multiple management positions in South Florida he initially had to deal with an obstacle beyond his control — his appearance.
Crew is a tall, bespectacled man with an easy smile and white hair. He was also introduced as a white man in a city that, according to 2010 Census data, has the third-largest percentage of African Americans in the country. The city is 78 percent black.
“There was a lot of opposition to me, and a lot of nervousness on my part,” Crew said. “It was tough for them to go out in the community and sell me.”
Odom, who has been around since the city’s early days, said that even as the council considered multiple candidates for the position, she told her colleagues, “I think you guys need to take another look at the white boy.”
The City Council eventually approved his hire with a 4-3 vote.
Crew would face public scrutiny again after his side passion of collecting and writing about suffrage and American historical sheet music — including music from the Ku Klux Klan — became public knowledge.
“I collect old piano sheet music and I have one of the largest collections in the nation,” Crew said. “People got up at the council meetings and said since he wrote a book on the Klan he must be a member.”
Eventually, the city and community came to accept him and, as he leaves, Crew said he’ll keep himself busy by continuing to pursue his passion for historical music.
He is finishing his second doctorate degree at the University of Sunderland, in England, studying American political music history online in the culture department. He plans to travel to the country to give his oral defense in January.
“I’m glad to be where I am. My contract would have taken me through the end of July but at some point the city needs to move forward,” said Crew.
He has not ruled out a return to municipal government, but said if he does return he’d like to go to central Florida, the area he thinks represents “the old Florida.”