Tyler Saying Goodbye To Retiring Chief Financial Officer
By Jacque Hilburn-Simmons
Tyler's top budget guy, Daniel Crawford, knows how to stretch a dime.
Since joining the city 16 years ago, he's sat in the same tattered green swivel chair.
The chief financial officer has never ordered pens for himself, preferring to use "freebies" folks give away as advertising.
His office is void of fancy furnishings and drawers overflowing with supplies -- his desktop contains primarily a computer, a plastic inbox and a dated, dinged-up calculator he's hauled around for 16 years.
"That calculator has gone to every budget meeting and traveled everywhere with me," he said. "It doesn't have a tape. I don't even have to change the batteries -- it is solar powered."
Crawford adheres to this ultra-frugal approach, not on instructions, but on principle.
"I see myself as a steward of public funds," he said. "It's not my money; it's the city of Tyler's money. And because of that, it's an awesome responsibility."
Crawford is set to retire next week, and co-workers say their department will never be the same.
Internal auditor Keidric Trimble is expected to fill the void when his mentor of 12 years steps away, but there are no signs of happy anticipation.
"I have so much respect for him," Trimble said this week. "He gave me a lot of opportunities to grow and develop. I guess the biggest thing I respect about Daniel is his faith. There's no doubt what's important to him. I wish he'd stay -- I hate to see him go."
Crawford is a fifth-generation Texan, originally from San Antonio. His parents led modest lifestyles -- his dad ran his own trucking firm and his mom kept the books.
At a young age, he realized the importance of hard work.
"I actually started selling seeds when I was 4 years old," he said. "It was a stupid idea. Flower seeds in San Antonio, Texas? It was a desert."
An assortment of jobs would follow: raking leaves, mowing lawns and almost lifeguarding.
"When I arrived, they realized I was only 11 and a half, too young to be a lifeguard" he said. "The camp director realized he needed someone to run the camp store, so that's what I did ... for three summers."
In high school, he worked as a grocery store night stocker. In college, he became the youngest hall director in the history of Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State University.
The last 30 years were spent overseeing the finances of five different Texas municipalities; the last 16 in Tyler.
Some might suspect a career filled with crunching numbers might be boring, but listening to Crawford, it seems anything but.
"I've been through three natural disasters," he said.
The first was in 1983, when Hurricane Alicia struck the Galveston-Houston area, killing 21 and causing about $2.5 billion in damages.
"I was the finance director," he said. "They put me in charge of running the shelter ... there were 300 people in it."
In 1984, he went to work for Kerrville and soon after helped the city rebuild after it suffered a flood and wildfires.
Then in 1994, he was tapped to serve as the finance director in Desoto when the Lancaster tornado came through, hitting City Hall and tossing a pickup truck into his office.
City files and records blew away, he said.
Items left behind -- including the computer and telephone systems -- were saturated when the sprinkler system went off, including materials housed in the public library.
"Technically, it was one week before I was supposed to report to work," he said. "I showed up to help out. We made payroll and paid vendors that week ... we had to abandon City Hall for about six months."
Despite the chaos, Desoto received an award that year for its budgeting practices.
Tyler city leaders hired him away.
"I think God had a plan for me to be here," he said. "I felt at home from the first day I got here."
During his tenure with Tyler, he helped whack the property tax rate by 60 percent, racked up 30 awards for financial accounting, financed $290 million in public works projects and boosted the city's Standard & Poor's credit rating to the highest possible AAA.
City Manager Mark McDaniel seemed to grimace at the thought of Crawford walking out the door.
"As chief financial officer for the city, Daniel has been an enormous resource for accounting, financial planning and budgeting," the city manager said. "Along with other budget committee staff, Daniel has brought a wealth of information and analysis to the table in determining optimum financial strategies - both long and short term."
Mayor Barbara Bass seemed to fight her emotions Wednesday when she made a special proclamation, announcing May 23, 2012, as Daniel Crawford Day.
"I would say that Daniel was the driving force behind the city of Tyler achieving national recognition for its financial statements and budgeting process," she said afterward.
Crawford and his wife of 32 years, Deborah, have no plans to move. Their two children both attend The University of Texas at Tyler.
With retirement now just days away, Crawford is planning the next chapter of life, which probably won't feature a summer itinerary filled with lavish vacations or shopping sprees.
"We'll probably visit some parks to do a little walking and hiking," he said. "I really don't have any unfulfilled desires, I'm content. I think God will have a plan for me."