NISKAYUNA -- Ismat Alam, a former top budget official for the cities of both Schenectady and Albany, started work this week as the new comptroller for the town of Niskayuna.
Alam will be one of the town's top day-to-day managers, replacing former comptroller Paul Sebesta, who retired in June shortly after he was suspended from the job following social media posts about his having appeared in a "black-face" costume at a Halloween party in 2014. Such costumes are viewed as demeaning to Black people.
Town officials say they're very pleased to have hired Alam, who lives in Clifton Park and has extensive experience in government finance.
"I've known her for years and I can't believe our good fortune in being able to bring her in," said Town Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw, who was a co-leader of the search along with Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed.
Alam most recently was chief financial officer at WCI -- Work, Community, Independence, a non-profit organization in Glens Falls.
Alam has a long history on government finance in the Capital Region. She was commissioner of finance and operations for the city of Schenectady from 2006 to 2013, while Brian Stratton was mayor. She left to become CFO of Proctors Theatre. She later served two years as budget director for the city of Albany.
A graduate of the University at Albany, Alam began her career in financial management at General Electric, and has also worked at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.
Murphy McGraw said the search process for a new comptroller began last winter, since Sebesta, a 32-year town employee, had already let the Town Board know he planned to retire. This was well before the information about the "black-face" costume emerged in May.
"He had let us know he was going to be retiring, and he helped us design the process," Murphy McGraw said.
Alam was selected from among 57 applicants, and was one of five interviewed.
"She comes to us with a wealth of experience in exactly what we need, and with everyone we talked to, she came highly recommended," Murphy McGraw said.
Alam will be earning about $129,000, putting her at the same pay grade as the heads of other large departments.
She is coming to the town at a time when Niskayuna and every other local government in New York state are facing extreme challenges due to revenue declines and higher expenses, both tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The town has a roughly $15.8 million annual budget.
"She has lived through other budget challenges, and for me, that's probably the biggest thing," Murphy McGraw said.