Iowa City's O'Malley retires following nearly 30 years in finance


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Kevin O’Malley is not used to being the center of attention.

The outgoing Iowa City finance director, who has worked in the Finance Department since 1985, described public service as a noble, honest profession — something that often happens behind the scenes.

As O’Malley retires from his position, he hopes his successor will keep in mind more than just the numbers.

“Every job besides the work is the people,” he said. “I believe in education you need to provide opportunities for staff to grow. We always get new statutes that affect city operations.”

His successor, Dennis Bockenstedt, works as the city finance director in Hutchinson, Kan. He is a native of Iowa. Bockenstedt was not available for comment Wednesday evening.

But despite his successor’s qualifications, those who have known O’Malley over the years say they’ll miss the unique qualities he brought to the position.

“He’s always fair with people; he’s a straight shooter,” said Denny Gannon, an Iowa City assistant city engineer.

City Manager Tom Markus thinks O’Malley was thorough and professional in the finance-director position.

“From an objective review, he maintained the city’s AAA bond rating throughout his career,” he said. “That says a lot about him, and he’ll be missed.”

O’Malley grew up in Chicago in a large Irish-Catholic family, which, he says, taught him the values of discipline and sharing.

One moment in particular helped shape his view of what government should be.

When O’Malley was playing basketball as a child on a hot, dry day and wanted to get a drink, he discovered the water had been shut off. But after a call to the local waterman, the waterman came out and turned on the water the next day.

“Chicago was not always the most honest form of government,” he said. “But after that, I thought, ‘That’s what government should be. Responsive.’ ”

O’Malley was the city’s risk manager during several disasters, such as floods and straight-line winds, and he managed the funds. With budgets having been worked on 18 months before they were put into place, it was often difficult to keep the finances in order.

“We had to put projects on the back burner and spend a lot of money,” he said. “FEMA helped, but there was a lot of paperwork.”

That’s one aspect of the job that O’Malley won’t miss.

“If the city had book-sized paperwork, and the state had volume-sized, then the federal government had a bookshelf,” he said.

But O’Malley did more than just manage the money and handle the paperwork.

“Kevin has very strong values. He’s very considerate of all employees,” said Deb Mansfield, a budget analyst for Iowa City. “He’s always aware of people issues, not just dollar issues, and that’s pretty rare.”

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