Eureka city manager Greg Sparks announces retirement

Search is on for successor; special council meeting planned for Tuesday

Greg Sparks
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Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks sent a letter to the mayor, city council members and city staff Wednesday announcing he will retire by the end of the year.

“It has been my great personal and professional pleasure to have served as city manager of Eureka since May of 2014. After forty years of working in local government, I plan on retiring by the end of 2019,” Sparks wrote. “I would particularly like to thank Mayor Susan Seaman, former Mayor Frank Jäger, and the current city council and past councilmembers for your leadership and commitment to making Eureka a great place to live, and for your support to myself, the city’s management team and our employees.”

The reaction from those who worked closely with Sparks is one of loss, which is due to the atmosphere he created and cooperative work environment he fostered.

“First, I want to say it’s going to be a hard job to fill Greg’s shoes,” said councilmember Kim Bergel. “He’s been an amazing mentor and he will be missed greatly by me and others. I’m really sad he’s leaving. Although it will be great for him, I’m still sad for us. I have learned so much from him. He’s so diplomatic, he never gets rattled, he keeps things really open and clear and he was always available to work on an issue that needed to be done today. Even when he didn’t agree, we worked together as a team because that’s how the city works, as a team.”

Sparks’ thanks to city staff and elected officials expressed in his letter was just as warm as their appreciation of his work over the past five years. Sparks said the working relationships he developed over a career made it worthwhile.

“I informed the council about a month ago, initially, and we started the process of getting the recruiter on board,” Sparks said Wednesday afternoon. “I think, as a city manager, we have the opportunity to have positive impacts on communities. From my standpoint, one of the things I’m most proud of is the partnerships that were formed. Anything worth accomplishing takes more than one person to get accomplished.”

Sparks began his career in Florida as an assistant to the city manager in Largo and he will play a role in finding his successor, a search that has already begun.

The city has already held three visioning sessions with a consulting firm that will assist in the search for a replacement and for Seaman, the timing of the announcement gives the city space to make the correct choice.

“I think it’s going to be a huge challenge as it always is,” Seaman said. “Whoever comes in will be coming to a pretty good situation and it’s a lot easier to come in when you have harmony. We have a lot of challenges and it would be nice to have someone in place by the new year. This isn’t an urgent situation and by the time he leaves, it will be the holiday season.”

Seaman added the consultant they have worked with has a good understanding of the city and the style of leadership at city hall that should make the final selection a good fit, both for the new manager and the city itself.

Councilmember Leslie Castellanos echoed the sentiments of Bergel and Seaman when she spoke about the impact Sparks has had at city hall.

“I really appreciated his experience and professionalism and the progress he’s brought to the city of Eureka,” Castellano said. “I think Greg was very skillful at finding a pathway forward among different ideas put forth, creating and fostering communication between people which is more subtle in terms of how the city functions. We don’t have to agree but we do have to communicate with each other and understand our differences and make decisions.”

The city council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the search for a new city manager.

“I think we need someone who has the capacity for discernment and thoughtful decision-making,” Castellano said. “I also think they should have an appreciation of the complexity of Eureka and have an understanding where Eureka is and where we want it to go.”

Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson was another who spoke highly of Sparks and the impact he has had on the city and on his own career.

“Mutual respect, trust and a close working relationships between a city manager and his/her department heads, including the chief of police, are vital to the welfare, vitality, and effectual operations of a city,” Watson said. “Greg has been a great leader and mentor for the city team and I’ve truly enjoyed working with him. I have appreciated the support he has demonstrated for the men and women of the Eureka Police Department, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity he has given me to lead them and serve this great Eureka community. Greg’s impending retirement is bittersweet as we’ll hate to see him leave, but it is well-deserved after 40 years of faithful service in local government. I wish him and his wife, Mary, all the best in the next chapter of their lives.”

Sparks said that he enjoys the cool coastal weather so a move to a place like Arizona or Florida is definitely out of the question. He also said he’s been on two mountain-climbing vacations this year and wants to do more of that which points to him remaining somewhere in the west.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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