Charlie Crichton was known to have a sense of humor, so it's a good bet he would have been amused at the location for his public memorial service.
Crichton, who spent more time as a member of the than anyone in the city's history, died March 13. He was 83.
In spite of Crichton's steadfast opposition to the $20 million Burnsville Performing Arts Center in the Heart of the City redevelopment district, his March 17 memorial service took place there.
Crichton – who often ruffled feathers during his 19-year tenure on the council – was praised by colleagues for his tenacity and his outspoken refusal to spend taxpayer money on projects he deemed unnecessary. As he told the Star Tribune in 2010: “We need to listen to the people, not just go with our own ideas.”
“Charlie was a tax hawk,” City Council member Dan Kealey said in a statement. “Taxpayers have lost one of the best civil servants in the city’s history.”
Kealey offered further praise for Crichton in an online tribute: “He was a friend, a colleague, a mentor, a diligent civil servant, friend to everyone he met, but most of all, a loving husband and father. His voice on council will live on through his legacy in the hearts and minds of the people of Burnsville.”
At its March 21 meeting, at the mayor's suggestion, the City Council observed a moment of silence for "our friend and colleague, Charlie Crichton." The council will decide in April whether to appoint someone to fill Crichton's unexpired term or schedule a special election for the seat.
His priorities for the city remained the same throughout his tenure on the council: public safety, road improvements and keeping taxes down.
Crichton – also one of the oldest city council members in Minnesota – was first elected to the council in 1992 to fill an unexpired term. He most recently won re-election to a four-year term in 2010.
He had been in ill health for several years. His condition worsened in early February and he was hospitalized in Shakopee, where he died.
Crichton and Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz were the two longest-serving members of the council: Kautz served two years as a councilmember before being elected mayor in 1994 – and she held off a mayoral challenge by Crichton in 2000.
Although the two sometimes clashed on city matters, Kautz believes that Crichton always had Burnsville's best interests at heart. She remembers one occasion when Crichton came toward her with his arms outstretched, ready to give her a hug.
"He said, 'Wait, do you think we're going to ruin our image with some people?'" the mayor remembers with a laugh. "And I said, 'Charlie, it's OK -- let's mix it up a little. It will give them something to talk about.' And he laughed and gave me a thumbs-up."
Kautz said too much was made of any public clashes between herself and Crichton.
"Of course, there were big things that we disagreed on," she said. "But when you go and really evaluate our voting, there were really very few things where we had disagreements. Charlie and I had a very good relationship."
One of those disagreements was over the Performing Arts Center. Even after the building was finished, Crichton continued to insist that taxpayers should not have paid for it.
“Arts definitely has a place in suburban settings; it just doesn’t have a place in new buildings funded by the taxpayer,” he said last summer. “Community arts centers, like those in Lakeville and Rosemount, are the appropriate model to follow. …
“All city facilities should run with the intent on breaking even. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get to the point where this will occur.”
Crichton’s responsibilities on the council included overseeing the Fire Muster Board, the Burnsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Parks and Natural Resources Commission, the Black Dog Watershed Management Organization and the Multi-Family Housing Managers as the city council liaison.
He also represented Burnsville on the Cedar Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee, the Association of Metropolitan Municipalities Policy Committee on Municipal Revenue and the League of Minnesota Cities Policy Committee on Improving the Fiscal Futures, and was an alternate on the Dakota Communication Center board.
Crichton was not politically active at the state or federal level. In fact, he didn’t become involved in Burnsville government until he retired from a career in computer science and moved south from Arden Hills. He served on that city’s council in the 1970s and as mayor in the early 1980s.
In 1957, while working at Univac, Crichton he helped introduce the Univac I, the nation’s first commercial computer. He spent six years at Univac, much of it traveling the country searching out and training computer programmers, before moving on to Control Data, where he worked for 25 years.
Crichton is survived by his wife, Terry; three sons, Tenney, Bob and Ross; three daughters, Jan, Beth and Deb; a brother, Neil; 18 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.