Deep within the City of Ardmore municipal building, a man with silver hair spiking from scalp and chin peers through gold-rimmed glasses as he turns red into black, bringing balance to the sheet.
Plaques, awards and the beaming faces of his wife and kids cover the sparse, beige-painted walls of the corner-office. But the spoils of the eccentric accountant’s dynasty running through local government only taunts City of Ardmore Finance Director Ken Campbell now.
Campbell, weeks after receiving the department’s 20th Distinguished Budget Presentation award since he began working for the city in 1993, plugs away at his desk, turning a fresh stack of numbers into a 400-page long budget, or bible as he jokingly describes it, mapping out the financial future of the city.
Finance never sleeps, nor does the assumption for Campbell and his staff to win the Government Finance Officers Award, after taking the Budgeting Honor 19 years in a row, 14 of which was with him as director.
“For me and my staff, winning the award is pretty much expected at this point,” Campbell said. “Now if we didn’t win, that would turn some heads.”

While many see an Excel spreadsheet as a bland grid of lines and raw numbers, Campbell sees a game of chess and opportunity — an opportunity to turn his first love, numbers, into consumable insight and information.

Campbell said city budgets tend to be sparse, with some filling out around two pages, But Ardmore and Campbell do things a little differently. Last year, Ardmore’s 2016-2017 budget was 412 pages, not including the glossary and addendums.

“It’s almost like a quest for me, I’m on a mission to discover all the information possible,” the longest-tenured City of Ardmore executive said. “We already have the winning format, so it’s about improving on it. After 25 years, I’m still learning and hopefully still improving.”

In college, Campbell initially wanted to enter a career in education, teaching math. But once he took his first accounting course, he found his favorite subject could be more than just theory and problems. In accounting, he said he could turn numbers into tangible solutions.

“I’ve always enjoyed math, and I’ve always enjoyed numbers,” Campbell said. “It was always my favorite subject in school and I wanted to be just like my math teachers, but once I took my first accounting course, it put everything into perspective.”

Upon graduating from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and getting his license as a certified public accountant Campbell entered the private sector, where profit was king.

But in 1993, Campbell took the first step towards a different world when it comes to accounting.

Campbell applied for an open accounting position in the Ardmore Water Department. He said hundreds applied for the position and his application and resume were ranked as the cream of the crop.

After the interview process, Campbell was given a different position than the one he applied for, however and started his 25 year career in the city as a rover, going from department to department to assist in their accounting needs.

“I started from the bottom,” Campbell said. “But working with each of these departments, it helped me long term.”

Ardmore City Manager JD Spohn said Campbell’s work in the finance department has been a steady, consistent presence for the city for a long time.

“With Ken we know we have the continuity and stability of a great finance director,” “There’s a lot of laws, state and federal, he has to work with. For us to have someone as experienced and knowledgeable as Ken for so long, winning all the awards, it just shows the stability and knowledge he brings to Ardmore.”

But while the financial reporting and budgeting has been steady, the economy has seen dips and valleys, like in 2008 when the sales tax was cut. And at times, Campbell is the bearer of bad news, as falling revenues result in budget cuts. Don’t shoot the messenger.

“Working in the city, it’s not like Oklahoma or our Federal government, we can’t operate at a deficit,” he said. “We have to get back in the black every year.”

For the first time in a while though, based off  the earliest revenue reports, Campbell said the downward trend is shifting.

The hope for Campbell and other city employees is enough of a shift to secure cost of living adjustments for the next year, but the annual buillt-in raises would suffice.

And while he’s spent nearly half of his life working for Ardmore, and is now the longest tenured executive working for the city, Campbell said he doesn’t aim to leave the chair of Finance Director for anything but retirement.

“This is where I want to be,” Campbell said. “I love this job, the staff and I love what I do. When I leave this office, it won’t be for another job.”