Jim Gleason, Mascotte’s City Manager, has been with the city of Mascotte for nearly 8 years and during that time, the city has successfully had 5 tax cuts in the past 5 years with the last 3 tax cuts being full rollbacks in the tax rate. Mascotte has a lower tax rate than the 2010-2011 tax year, the year before he started.
The SOUTH LAKE TABLET recently got an opportunity to get to know Jim Gleason a little better.
TABLET: You are not only Mascotte’s city manager but a citizen unafraid to voice your political views.
Jim: My parents do not know where it came from, but I caught the “political bug” at the age of 10 in 1968. My dad was in the military and conservative; my mother a UK citizen had no history of US politics.
TABLET: What happened when you were 10 years old that made you focus on world issues.
Jim: While only 10, I was devastated, in a matter of months by the assassinations of two important political and social figures of my time. Robert Kennedy played a significant role in my political involvement and views. I was captivated by his speeches and message. Like Bobby and many other people he inspired, I believed that we could change the world and make it a better place for everybody.
I have been looking for a Bobby Kennedy ever since.
Even with Robert’s death, I continued my fascination with politics. I got my mother to take me to Hubert Humphry’s Campaign headquarters in Orlando to get flyers to handout in my neighborhood.
During that era, People wanted change and marched against the Vietnam War, Equal and Civil Rights. The music blared classic rock.
TABLET: Your mother is a UK citizen. How did your parents meet?
Jim: My dad was US Airforce. He met and married my mother while on assignment in England.
I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska but in 1960, my dad was stationed back to High Wycombe Airforce Base (just outside of London).
We lived off base and interacted on a regular base with our English neighbors. I was able to spend time with my English grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. School starts at a younger age in England, so I went to first grade and the start of second grade at the local English schools before I was old enough to go to first grade at the US school on the base.
I enjoyed my younger years living in England mainly because we were close to my mother’s side of the family.
TABLET: When did you return to the States?
Jim: My dad was transferred to McCoy Airforce Base in Orlando the summer of 1965. While the move to Florida was good, we did not have family near us so it made it a little more difficult. I did not have easy access to my grandparents plus the other relatives. But once we moved to Orlando, my dad, who was originally from Minnesota, got use to the heat and said we would never move to a cold place again.
TABLET: Did you attend Orlando schools?
Jim: I went to Orange County Public Schools, 2nd grade through high school. I attended Elementary Schools at Tangelo Park then Sadler. Junior High School (back then) Memorial and Westridge junior high school. I graduated from Oakridge High School summer of 1976. I turned 18 on Sunday, April 6, 1976, and registered to vote on Monday, April 7, 1976.
TABLET: Tell me about your teen years.
In Junior and Senior High School, I was active in school politics. I was the Student Council President at Westridge in 9th grade and Student Council President at Oakridge my senior year.
I volunteered on Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 in Orlando. Politics and the message of change were central to my beliefs and I have maintained that by volunteering, donating and even running for office. I believe it is the best way for me to give back to our society and community, to continue to try and make it a better place for everybody.
I was the first in my family to graduate high school and the first to go and graduate college, but it was not easy as I came from a blue-collar family and money for college was not a family option.
TABLET: Can you tell me a little about your family?
Jim: I was married at 22 (1980) and we had our first son at 23 (1981) and second son at age 26 (1984). I worked for 3 companies after high school, 7 years at each company. I had success at all three jobs but success didn’t make me happy.
TABLET: Had did you handle your desire for professional change
Jim: It took me almost 9 years to earn my Bachelors (Business Administration 1995) and Master’s 1997 (Public Administration) as it was evenings, weekends and between lots of business travel also before online classes but I had a goal wanting to be the first in my family to receive a degree.
I left my sales job in 1991 and opened a small medical specialty business in Orlando. I went to school two to three classes in the evenings and on weekends.
Even though I was working full time and going to school, I ran for and was elected to the City of Ocoee City Commission 1993, serving two terms until 1998 when I ran unsuccessfully for mayor. I also ran for the Florida State House of Representatives in 1998 but was not successful. It was the turning of the tide in Florida from Democrat to Republican.
TABLET: Did that stop you from moving forward?
Jim: I have always been a self-motivator and felt it was important to not only set goals but to accomplish them or be working towards accomplishing them. I left the City of Ocoee City Commission 1998, closed my company and started working for Health Central (Ocoee) as Vice President of Community and Governmental Relations lobbying on health care issues from Washington, Tallahassee and with local government.
In the late fall of 2000, I was approached by members of the Ocoee City Commission about an interim city manager position with the city. I was hired in April 2001 as the permanent city manager.
TABLET: That was your first city manager position. Did you enjoy the position?
Jim: It was a difficult learning experience as a first time City Manager. The role of a city manager is not to be involved in the political process but the policy process. The public scrutiny was difficult on my wife. After leaving Ocoee, I became city manager of Woodstock Georgia.
TABLET: What was next on your journey?
Jim: I worked as city manager of Woodstock until 2007 and then volunteered to be one of the first (3) city managers in the country to go to Iraq for ICMA (International City Count Manager Association) under a state department contract. I was a local government adviser to the US State Department and US Military in Kirkuk Iraq. I was part of the Bush Surge and a member of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kirkuk Iraq. My role was to teach local city (subdistrict) and county councils (district) how to run a local government from public meetings to budgets. When I returned from Iraq, I became the City Manager of the City of Chamblee, Georgia.
My wife was never happy in Georgia, both of our sons where in Orlando as well as my parents, so we never really connected there. My wife Cheryl teaches High School English and was offered a teaching position with Orange County Schools. I told her to take the job. I knew she wanted to return to Orlando. She had spent all our married life supporting my decisions, so it was time for her.
TABLET: When did you move back to Central Florida?
Jim: I stayed in Chamblee and Cheryl moved back to Ocoee where we had lived. She started teaching at Wekiva High School and later transferred to West Orange High School in Winter Garden where we live.
I came home in 2011 and took the month off to get settled. I applied and was selected as the city manager of Mascotte. The city was in a financial emergency (on the verge of bankruptcy). I found the challenge invigorating.
I started with the City of Mascotte in February 2011 and was appointed the permanent manager June 2011. I have been with the city a little over 7 ½ years. The plan was to stabilize the city then move on, but I found the challenge would need more time and dedication. Once the city was running smoothly, it is hard to think about walking away and leaving it to somebody else. What started as a temporary position, I hope can take me to retirement.
TABLET: What would you say is the #1 requirement for being a successful city manager?
Jim: As a manager, I have an ethical duty to ensure I have provided all the facts and as much information as possible for my city leaders to make a good policy decision, then it’s up to them
TABLET: Give me some of your proudest moments:
- Getting the City Council to recognize the seriousness of the financial problem and do what was and is a very unpopular position for an elected and that was to raise taxes. In raising the tax rate and along with conservative financial management it led to two very important accomplishments.
- Paying off almost $6 million of debt by September of 2017, some the loans were to go to 2032-2033 saving the city future interest payments of almost $500,000
- Building the city’s reserves from about $350,000 and falling to $1.25 million as a safety net for unplanned future emergencies
- 5 tax cuts in the last 5 years with the last 3 being Full Rollbacks, not sure if that has been done in the other cities or Lake County.
- At the same time we were able to increase the contribution for city employees retirement back to 10%, it had been cut to 5% because of the debt and also the employees have had 5 raises to match the 5 tax cuts so the citizens should be happy debt free, property tax cuts, council should be happy their voters are happy and employees are happy they too have benefited for the turn around.
TABLET: What gives you the strength to openly speak your beliefs?
Jim: We lost our oldest son Patrick at the age of 35. Losing a child is unbearable and has forever changed me. I was never afraid to speak up or stand up when it was not popular, but I am even more determined today to try and make this a better place.
I speak when possible to High School students about career positions in local government. I advise the students that local government touches on so many aspects of a person’s life and the students can find a very rewarding career with good pay and benefits in the public sector.
I advise the students that local government touches on so many aspects of a person’s life and the students can find a very rewarding career with good pay and benefits in the public sector.
There is a variety of services in local governments (recreation, parks, infrastructure, finance, police, fire) and they can be part of making the community a better place and at the same time enjoy what they do professionally and possibly make a decent living, good benefits and level of security not seen in the private sector.
TABLET: What’s next for James Patrick Gleason?
Jim: I have gotten older, but I refuse to grow up, I still carry the ideals I had for my community, my country and the world that I did as a child in 1968. I believe with the right people, we can change the world, we can ensure health care, education, housing and nutrition for all, as a right, not a privilege. It can be done not as a welfare state but a country that invests in its citizens and its infrastructure to ensure that quality of life is second to none! If that is a bad thing then we are in much worse condition than I could have ever imagined in my lifetime.
Growing up in the 60’s in the UK made me a big Beatles Fan as well as the Rolling Stones. I think their songs and the messages are as relevant today as when they were first written back then.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one