The candy man
Barry grad helps Iraqi government and its people embrace democracy
James Gleason ’95 is the city manager for the town of Chamblee, Georgia, population 12,500. He was hired in January 2008.
Before that he worked as city manager for Woodstock, Georgia, and Ocoee, Florida, with a combined population of 50,000, while putting in two years as an adjunct professor of public administration at Barry’s School of Adult and Continuing Education (ACE).
It may seem like Gleason is living a quiet, unassuming life. But from 2007 to 2008, he was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq, teaching officials in the newly born but struggling democracy how to run a municipal government and manage capital budgets.
Gleason is a member of ICMA (International City/County Management Association), a professional and educational association for government administrators based in Washington, D.C. As part of its Iraq Governance Program, ICMA sent several members, including Gleason, to provide technical assistance to Iraqi officials as they try to create a self-sustaining government.
“I found the Iraqi people want the same things we all do. They want good jobs, educational opportunities for their children, and a safe environment to live, work, and play,” Gleason said. “But their system has been dictated from Baghdad for so long that it will take time for them to learn the art of local control.”
Gleason came to Iraq with many of the same preconceived notions prevalent throughout the United States and was pleased to have the people of Kirkuk dispel many of them, he said.
The biggest misconception had to do with the Muslim religion.
“I had not had a lot of experience with Muslim friends in the United States. But now I have a greater respect for Islam today than I had before going to Iraq. I found Islam is not a violent religion but, like all religions, a few extremists can take teachings out of context to justify violent actions.”
Gleason credits the bachelor’s degree in professional studies he earned at Barry with giving him the opportunity to go to Iraq.
“The subject matter and instructors pushed you to succeed. If it had not been for the Barry program, which allowed working adults to complete a degree, I would not be where I am today.”
And after his time in Iraq, Gleason does not believe there is so much difference between where he is and the people of Kirkuk.
“I will never forget the smiles and laughs of the children who came up and greeted me and wanted me to take a picture. It also did not hurt that I was giving out candy; it just proves kids are kids no matter the country or culture. Candy is the universal language. It can bring a smile to a child’s face.”