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1/27/04 - Miami Herald

New Miami Gardens manager faces big hurdles, Miami Gardens critic moves ahead with campaign to dissolve the city

(note: the first 5 paragraphs, below, are from a 1/6/04 Miami Herald Article, the remainder are from the above cited 1/27/04 article)

By Trenton Daniel

Miami Gardens' most vocal critic has formed a political action committee to move forward a petition drive that would push the question of dissolving the financially troubled city to a referendum later this year.

Wilbur Coleman, who contends that the eight-month-old city's $4.3 million debt to the county will result in higher property taxes and massive slashes in public services, officially filed papers for the Intergenerational Political Action Committee late last month.

The community activist also submitted the petition to Miami Gardens, though it has not yet been approved by the city.

Under the county charter, Coleman will need to collect signatures from at least 10 percent of the registered voters in Miami Gardens -- a city of just over 100,000 -- to force a referendum.

Meanwhile, Danny O. Crew, a public administrator with more than 25 years of experience in city and county management, started his new job as Miami Gardens' city manager Tuesday. . Most recently, he helped the city government of Gastonia, N.C., eliminate a financial shortfall as its manager.

Danny Crew must like a challenge.

As the first permanent manager of Miami Gardens, Crew is responsible for helping to turn around a new city that has already incurred a debt of $6.2 million.

He faces an activist seeking to dissolve the city, buoyed by support from residents angry over slashed public services and fearful of higher property taxes.

He is a white manager in the state's largest predominantly black city, chosen on a 4-3 vote last month after the council's first choice turned down the job.

His opponents on the council openly conveyed their disapproval.

Councilman Oscar Braynon: ``There could have been a better personality to mesh with this community.''

Councilwoman Audrey King: ``Mr. Crew is definitely not a choice.''

But Crew, 56, is eager to tackle the task in the city of 100,805.

''It's not often somebody gets to build a city from the ground up,'' Crew said in an interview with The Herald.

Crew started Jan. 6 at a salary of $140,000, along with a monthly car allowance of $500, a cellphone and relocation expenses of up to $16,000, among other perks.

Mayor Shirley Gibson made it clear at the December council meeting that she nominated Crew because of his qualifications.

Crew, a city administrator with more than 25 years of experience, is credited with turning around the city of Gastonia, N.C.

In 1993, when Crew took the job as city manager, Gastonia, which then had a population of 67,900 and a budget of $164 million, was struggling financially because of an airport that a previous administration bought, Crew said.

Then, in the mid-1990s, the city's textile-driven economy partly collapsed after companies moved to Mexico. Dye mills closed, and 7,000 to 10,000 jobs disappeared, according to Mayor Jennifer Stultz, who was not only Crew's supervisor but also worked under him before she became mayor.


''This is not uncharted territory for Dr. Crew,'' Stultz said in a phone interview. ``Dealing with debt and dealing with it creatively is not uncharted territory. He's been there.''

To remedy Gastonia's woes, Crew expanded water services to seven county municipalities, Stultz said. Crew also cut costs for solid waste collection, changing pickup from twice a week to once a week.

Crew left the Gastonia post last year after 10 years. ''I just needed a break,'' he said.

He wanted to return to Florida, where he had held management positions in Pompano Beach, Boca Raton and St. Lucie and Collier counties, and Pinellas Park prior to Gastonia.

He applied a second time for the city manager position with North Miami and was one of six finalists deemed ''highly qualified.'' Crew withdrew his candidacy after he got the Miami Gardens job.

Crew -- whose management style Stultz describes as ''determined but negotiable'' -- was visibly nervous for his first City Council meeting.

When questions arose, he deferred to William Green, the transition coordinator who is helping with the transfer of governmental control from Miami-Dade County to leaders of the new city.

''This is not a good day for me,'' Crew said, with a light chuckle and a quick look to the scores of residents in attendance.

But Crew found his stride near the end of the four-hour Jan. 14 meeting -- making quick decisions, stressing the need to avoid superfluous expenses, showing off the results of a week on the job, and maintaining an earnest sense of humor.


If audience applause is any indication of approval, Gibson, council members and residents seemed pleased.

''I would like to congratulate you for selecting Mr. Crew. I'm very impressed,'' said Pat Lightfoot, a legislative aide who spoke to the council as a resident. ``Welcome to Miami Gardens, Mr. Crew, an experience you'll never forget, I'm sure.''

Topping Crew's list are finding an assistant city manager and putting together an administrative structure, he said.

Also, along with Green, he will look for bids on financial services contracts and enter negotiations for park maintenance and janitorial and park services. Moving into a permanent office space and preparing the audit are also on the agenda.

But the real bear will be the debt.

Miami Gardens has received a $6 million-plus bill from the county for public services provided during its transitional stage.

Crew said there is still much to be learned about the budget.

''There's not enough known about the local situation to get into details about,'' he said. The budget problems prompted Miami-Dade police to scale back Dec. 1 on 52 sworn officers for the city, and code enforcement staff was cut in half. The municipality recently signed a contract for crossing guards with a private agency.

The growing pains have added another item to Crew's agenda: an anti-incorporation movement. Activist Wilbur Coleman -- who helped defeat an earlier attempt to incorporate the smaller Destiny in the same area -- wants to push the city back to county control.

But Crew seems unfazed. He and Gibson will be trying to straighten out the budget for the next six weeks.

''Hopefully, people don't expect [changes] to happen over night,'' he said.

Gibson expressed satisfaction with her decision and Crew's performance so far.

''I'm very happy with the choice I made,'' she said.

Crew is married and has three stepdaughters who are in their 20s.

When not poring over finances, Crew has been collecting political memorabilia -- with an emphasis on sheet music -- since 1975. He says his collection exceeds 6,000 pieces.


He is the author of three books on the subject: Presidential Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalogue of Published Music Associated With the American Presidency and Those Who Sought the Office (2001); Suffragist Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalogue of Published Music Associated with the Women's Rights and Suffrage Movement in America, 1795-1921, with Complete Lyrics (2002); and Ku Klux Klan Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalogue of Published Music, 1867-2000 (2003).

Crew describes the books as research tools for historians. As for his book on Klan sheet music, he said, ``It's a piece of American history, just like the suffrage movement.''