Nisar takes finance director post | News

OTTUMWA — By trade, Waseem Nisar is a certified public accountant who’s worked with budgets close to a quarter-billion dollars per year that included a capital budget.

By trade — and at heart — he’s a teacher. In his view, both can be benefits in his new role.

Nisar was hired as the City of Ottumwa’s new finance director, ending a nine-month vacancy in one of the highest-profile posts in city government. Nisar began his duties Monday and still has some things to learn about local government finance, but he’s eager to delve in.

“Teacher might be a little heavy word in this context, but I like the words ‘coaching’ and ‘explaining,'” Nisar chuckled during an interview with The Courier Thursday. “I have done that part in all my life. I know a lot of people aren’t finance people, so I bring it down to their level and make sure they understand how important finance is.

“I think finance is probably the most important function of any entity,” he said. “If your finance is good, everybody will be happy.”

Nisar worked for a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice as a business manager for 21 years, while also dabbling as an adjunct lecturer at two different colleges in the Chicago area. He has degrees in both accounting and finance, and is a CPA.

“When I look at the position requirements, I think my background pretty much aligned with what I have done, wanted to do and continue to do,” he said. “My background is not particularly with city government, but I know pretty well what government accounting and finances look like.”

City administrator Philip Rath had taken on the finance director role on an interim basis after Kala Mulder’s resignation in February. Rath believes Nisar’s time as a teacher will come in handy when city staff and council begin meeting for budget discussions in the coming months.

“That was a benefit we weren’t expecting, but I’m hoping he’ll be able to take some financial terms, whether it’s talking about the budget or specific bonding, and be able to explain that to the public and the elected officials,” Rath said. “We have a very young staff in the finance department, so (he) can help them mature in their roles.”

“Absolutely, for sure, I think I will have to be patient. I always felt like I got good feedback because in some of the classes I taught, there were younger adults with a different understanding of finance from practical experiences,” Nisar said. “There is obviously a learning curve, but it’s my job to know what people’s backgrounds are.”

When Rath was hired as city administrator in 2020, he wanted to the city to take a “priority-based” bent to budgeting, where return-on-investment is key and quality-of-life improvements could bring money to the city.

“I think Phil probably got the sense that I am one of those people who will tell you what I feel, what the numbers are,” Nisar said. “I won’t beat around the bushes. I will just tell them, ‘This is what the facts are.’ I will tell them the story from my perspective, and let them decide.”

Nisar said the appeal of a smaller community was a major reason for taking the job. He believes in “the safety and well-being of the citizens” without compromising either.

“You don’t want to shortcut those issues,” he said. “You make decisions and go from there, but rest assured that will not compromise on the safety and well-being of the citizens.

“I’m just looking forward to getting better equipped to answer everybody’s questions,” Nisar said. “Give me a little bit of time to grab the whole situation and we’ll go from there. I’m looking forward to serving here.”


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