City of Iowa City
Chief Financial Officer of the Year – Government
Nominated by Geoff Fruin, City Manager
If city finance directors are tagged as boring bean counters, someone forgot to tell Dennis Bockenstedt. His boss, City Manager Geoff Fruin uses words like “incredible” and “transformational” to describe his impact on Iowa City government and the community it serves.
“It is hard to imagine a city Finance Director accomplishing more — devoting more resources to services, increasing efficiency, stellar personnel management, lowering the tax rate, establishing reserves for future needs, reducing debt, and responding to a rapidly shifting financial landscape,” Mr. Fruin added in his letter nominating the Cedar Rapids-raised Mr. Bockenstedt for CBJ’s C-Suite Award.
Under Mr. Bockenstedt’s leadership, the city has strengthened its Aaa bond rating from Moody’s and put in place long-term strategies to sustain services despite reductions in federal and state revenue, wrote Mr. Fruin. The Government Finance Officers Association has recognized Mr. Bockenstedt and his staff’s work by awarding the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and Certificate of Achievement in Financial Reporting each year of his tenure.
Lowering the tax levy each year of his tenure is a point of pride for Mr. Bockenstedt, who held accounting and finance director positions in Muscatine, Burlington and Ankeny and Hutchinson, Kansas, before coming to Iowa City in 2013.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen or done that anywhere else,” he said.
Noting the teamwork involved, he calls it “a citywide accomplishment” that took place against the backdrop of state property tax restructuring that continues to drop rates for multifamily residential units by 2.75 percent per year.
Obtaining financing for major projects including the new public works building, Harrison Street Parking Garage, Chauncey Tower and Riverfront Crossings park has also been challenging and satisfying, he said.
Mr. Bockenstedt achieves impact with an activist approach to leadership.
“We’ve developed a lot of efficiency measures – new payroll system, software, a lot of things that would help make things more streamlined, building contingencies into the budget,” he said, adding that those contingencies include potential losses of revenue, whether due to state government or natural disasters – several of which have hit Iowa City through the years.
Where does his motivation come from? “I think just watching how my parents were. My dad was in construction. My mom was a bookkeeper for a department store. They were good at their jobs and did their best … for 30 years without excitement or awards. They showed up every day. They didn’t complain.”
He also credits city managers and finance directors in towns where he’s worked. “They gave me opportunities, responsibilities, a chance … it’s hard to accomplish anything if people don’t put their trust in you.”
The big accomplishments — “home runs and triples” — are probably less important in the long run than the “hidden, not-so-fun” day-to-day routines like internal controls and cash flow analysis “that just keep things flowing,” he said.
The best part of the job, he said, “is working with people I work with everyday. The group I work with now is as good as any – they’re all enjoyable to be around, they’re hard working, they’re professional.”
Mr. Bockenstedt and his wife, Julie, who works as a bereavement counselor at Iowa City Hospice, have five dogs. Their grown son lives in Kansas.
– Emery Styron