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An Iowa man will be taking the helm of Eureka in May, city officials announced on Thursday.

Greg Sparks of West Des Moines is tentatively slated to start May 1, after a background check.

”I'm looking forward to a whole new experience of city management in California, with the unique issues that Eureka has as a coastal city and a regional center,” Sparks said.

He signed a three-year contract with the city, and will be paid $155,000 annually plus benefits, Mayor Frank Jager said.

Sparks replaces former City Manager Bill Panos, who resigned in October after nine months on the job, leaving behind an annual salary of $158,000 to take a job with the Wyoming Governor's Office.

Jager said Sparks appears to be the type of person that is low key and gets things done without making people upset.

”We need someone to work within the various factions of our community and within city hall,” Jager said. “He seems to fit that bill. I'm hopefully optimistic he'll be here for a while.”

During his 36 year career, Sparks has worked his way up the ranks from a management intern in Reno, Nev., to city manager of cities twice the size of Eureka.

He currently serves as the city manager of West Des Moines, where he manages a 415-member staff and an annual budget of $113 million, according to a city of Eureka press release.


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According to the Des Moines Register, Sparks signed a three-year contract in 2011 with West Des Moines for an annual salary of $155,000.

Past positions include town manager of Mountain Village, Colo., a resort community in the southwest part of the state; city administrator of Owatonna, Minn.; and city administrator of Worthington, Minn., according to a city press release. He also held management positions in Florida and Kansas.

While in Minnesota, Sparks said he helped improve economic sustainability by partnering with state and local businesses, created a local college and university center and developed a plan to construct a new hospital.

This past year in West Des Moines, he oversaw a $100 million expansion of the Wells Fargo home mortgage campus and the building of multiple housing projects for single-family homes, apartments and condominiums.

The Iowa native said he chose to leave the Midwest because the Eureka City Council wants someone who can implement the city's five-year strategic plan, work with staff and the community on the General Plan Update, help advance tourism initiatives and improve the level of service to the community.

”I felt those were all things that played to my strengths,” he said.

Sparks added he also made the decision to move because he and his wife, Mary, a nurse, have a son Aaron and daughter-in-law Emily who live in Goleta, Calif. Aaron is a full-time doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Emily is employed by UCSB.

Jody Smith, the deputy city manager of West Des Moines, described Sparks as a very easygoing person who doesn't get rattled and has a good rapport with people.

”I like working with him,” Smith said. “I've worked with many city managers for 38 years in local government, and he's in the top cadre of city managers I've worked with.”

Growing up, Sparks wanted to be a high school government and history teacher.

He majored in political science and minored in history at the University of Northern Iowa. Right after earning his bachelor's degree, he attended University of Nevada to complete his master's in public administration.

”I wanted to learn more about how government worked,” Sparks said. “I thought I'd work in government a couple of years and then go into teaching. Well, I never did go into teaching.”

While working for the city of Reno, Sparks said he enjoyed the types of projects the municipality worked on.

”I realized this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “I've been doing it ever since.”

Compare and contrast

Greg Sparks currently serves as the city manager of West Des Moines, Iowa; he's tentatively scheduled to start as Eureka's city manager on May 1.

West Des Moines

Area: 39.48 sq. miles

Population: 59,296 (2012)

Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent (Aug. 2013)

Eureka

Area: 14.45 sq. miles

Population: 26,961 (2012)

Unemployment rate: 9.1 percent (Aug. 2013)

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or lrodriguez@times-standard.com. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.