Powder Springs' new city manager a globetrotter

Rick Eckert, Powder Springs' new city manager,  has helped build an experimental city in the Middle East and dealt with then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Eckert said it might not be glamorous, but the south Cobb town of 15,000 people suits him fine.

“A lot people in my profession try to move to bigger communities and work up the ladder that way,” he said. “But I like smaller communities. You know people better.”

The 1973 graduate of Southwest Missouri State University previously worked for CH2M Hill, the company that contracts government services for places like Sandy Springs. He spent most of 2008 working in Masdar City, a planned city in the United Arab Emirates designed to rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources.

His job was to help design a city government. The project started to lose steam when the oil money slowed, he said.

“I learned a lot about going green, which sounds good but is extremely expensive," he said. "Even with the best technology you still have to subsidize it several billion dollars a year to make it sustainable."

Eckert worked from 2002 to 2007 managing the 1,700-square-mile Ketchikan Gateway Borough in the south tip of Alaska. (For comparison, Cobb has about 350 square miles.)

Ketchikan would have been home to the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a proposed $398 million project that became a symbol of pork-barrel spending. Palin first supported the project but canceled it while governor in 2007.

Eckert said he met Palin several times, including when she visited Ketchikan and was fogged in. When he asked if she wanted to meet any local leaders, Palin said they could make an appointment to visit her office. She said she’d rather talk with people in the community while in Ketchikan, he said.

“My respect for her shot through the roof,” Eckert said.

Eckert signed a two-year, $115,000-per-year contract with Powder Springs. The last city manager was placed on leave in 2008 and then fired. Mayor Pat Vaughn did the job until Eckert was hired.

Eckert said Powder Springs has special problems because the September floods hammered the city's property tax digest, which was already declining from the overall economic downturn. Making government more efficient will be the major challenge for managers in the future, he said.

"The whole nature of city government has changed forever with this economic crisis," Eckert said.