116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Amal Eltahir feels like she’s been preparing to lead a city her whole life.
Eltahir, Marion’s assistant to the city manager, is serving her last day in her current role Wednesday. She then will head to Oskaloosa in June to serve as the city manager.
The 44-year-old from Sudan moved permanently to the United States in 2015. Both her and her husband pursued degrees at the University of Iowa, with Eltahir studying planning and public policy after originally being an architect.
“I’m really excited for this next step, and I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” Eltahir said.
Eltahir has 20 years of experience in positions involving strategic planning and executive-level management in Sudan and Eastern Iowa, including fire administration and support planning with Iowa City and planning and development with Linn County.
After some time spent in the private sector, Eltahir discovered that her passion is serving communities.
“I realized it’s no longer about the numbers for me. It didn’t feel the same,” she said. “I’m all about community.”
Eltahir has been with Marion for six years, starting in community development reviewing and approving building plans. She moved to the City Manager’s Office in 2018.
“It’s really hard for me to leave Marion. Marion has been my home,” she said. “I built a lot of relationships here and I love this community, but I was looking for growth and this is a great opportunity. But Marion will always be in my heart.”
During Eltahir’s time as assistant to the city manager, the office has not had a deputy city manager, which the city plans to hire this year.
The city is partnering with firm GovHR to recruit candidates for the open deputy city manager and fire chief positions. Former fire chief Deb Krebill retired earlier this year. The city anticipates mid-August start dates for both positions.
Without a deputy city manager, Eltahir was heavily involved with all city operations and managing the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.
“I’ve gained so much experience,” she said. “I was honored to have been involved with a lot of policy. And being able to see the improvements in Uptown when we’ve been planning for years, seeing that is huge for me.”
Eltahir also was responsible for working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the August 2020 derecho.
Earlier this month, the city received $4.1 million in public assistance reimbursements from FEMA, bringing the total received so far to $11.8 million. The city still has an additional $11.14 million in requests at various stages of the FEMA process, City Manager Ryan Waller said.
Eltahir said responding to the derecho was the biggest challenge in her career.
“It was a huge hit for the city and it impacted our (Capital Improvement Plan) and timeline for projects and funding,” she said. “Working with FEMA has been my priority because of the impact of what it has on everything. It was crippling for the city to have to watch and leave everything as is. We were running bare bones.”
Eltahir said she’s going to take everything she learned in Marion to Oskaloosa. The southern Iowa city has a population of around 11,500 and is in Mahaska County.
“I was recruited for the position,” Eltahir said. “I went there and saw the community and talked to people. It seems like a nice community and it’s a good size. And I love Iowa in general. It’s an Iowa town with history and identity. It has a university. It’s small and intimate.”
City Finance Director Lianne Cairy said Eltahir has been a key utility player in Marion, often identifying a need and then stepping in to fulfill it.
“She was instrumental in the development of the (Capital Improvement Plan) and helped oversee the construction of the new headquarters for the Marion Fire Department,” Cairy said. “However, her leadership really stood out during the derecho response and during the city manager vacancy. She always put the city of Marion first and took on additional responsibility without hesitation.”
In her new role, Eltahir will be paid $147,000 annually, with the potential to increase to $150,000 after a six-month evaluation, according to minutes of the May 2 Oskaloosa City Council meeting. Public data shows her salary last year in Marion was $103,500.
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