MEET JAMES LUKAS (MPA '96)
- J.D., Levin College - Cleveland State University
- M.P.A., Cleveland State University
- B.A., Cleveland State University
Where are you currently residing?
Sharonville (Cincinnati), Ohio
Where are you from?
Garfield Heights, Ohio
- Position Title: Safety Service Director
- Place of Employment: City of Sharonville
- Job Duties: Under the direction of the Mayor, I serve as the Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Sharonville, supervising the day to day affairs of the city's departments based on the laws and policies established by the Mayor and City Council.
Taught an individual to read and write through Cleveland's Project Learn Program; 15+ years as a member of the Rotary Club; 2+ years as a member of the Kiwanis Club; Board Member of Mental Health Recovery Services; Member of the Special Events Committee for the City of Franklin; Board Member of the Warren County Municipal League.
Why did you decide to attend Levin?
I was initially enrolled in the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and, while a first-year student at that institution, saw a bulletin board notice to learn about the joint JD/MPA program. After attending that session and talking about the MPA and, more specifically, the quality of Levin (e.g., nationally ranked in several areas), it was a “no-brainer” to expand my career options and pursue the joint JD/MPA degree. Since I have been employed in local government for 20 years, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
How did your experience at Levin influence your career path?
While attending Levin, I was fortunate to receive a paid internship with the Cleveland City Council in their Policy & Research Division under John James, another Levin graduate. It was during this experience that I became passionate about local government.
I’ll never forget one specific project where a member of Council, Craig Willis, asked for some recommendations regarding the glass litter in one of the parks in his ward. Based on some research, I found that several cities – including St. Louis at the time – banned the sale of chilled beer bottles in stores over a certain size. They did so because people would purchase the chilled beer, immediately consume it, and discard the bottle in the street or park areas, shattering it into pieces. Throwing chilled beer cans on the ground does not have the same impact on safety and is easier to clean-up.
We held several meetings, which I was asked to lead, with entities such as the Glass Packaging Institute and beer companies in attendance. This was where the combination of the JD and MPA training helped as I was able to address Interstate Commerce Clause arguments against the prohibition. The end-result, however -- to not ban the above -- was also my first lesson in politics, as grocery stores and others contacted the members of City Council to vote against this matter. This happened even though we were able to show that establishments in St. Louis were selling more beer after the ban was put in place primarily because they were able to put more cans than bottles on the shelves.
What's your favorite Levin memory?
I have two. First, while attending classes at both Levin and Cleveland-Marshall, I greatly appreciated fellow students who were older and had “real-world” experience. They would more often challenge professors and also relate their work experiences to what was being studied at the time. This helped me academically and in my career. My second favorite memory is when I was asked to speak to Levin classes about my career or leadership in general or to law school students about the joint JD/MPA program. Giving back just a small bit in this manner is so important and enjoyable.
I will never forget receiving 5 or 6 emails from students after speaking in one particular Levin class – during the session, they were very inquisitive about city management. We also had a wonderful discussion about my favorite leadership book (“Good to Great”) and other leadership matters. I apparently came across as very "real" and "down to earth" by some and even "restored faith in local government" for others. Those emails were touching and, again, remembered to this day -- remember to do the "little things" for others.
Our local government future is in good hands with those attending Levin!
What piece of advice do you have for current Levin graduate students?
Establish and maintain relationships with your colleagues and professors. I did not do as good a job as I should have with this, but treasure the relationships I still have to this day (e.g., Professor Weinstein). Staying in touch should be easier for students in today’s social media world and it is very important.
In your opinion, what’s Northeast Ohio’s best kept secret?
Where to begin? Northeast Ohio has many best kept secrets: Playhouse Square (not many have a theater district like Cleveland’s); the Cleveland Orchestra; the Art and History Museums; the Rock Hall of Fame; the West Side Market; the Metro-park system (“Emerald Necklace”); the Christmas Story House; Lake Erie; and the dynamic food scene. I have lived in Cleveland, Dayton, and Cincinnati – while the others are nice, Cleveland has more of the quality amenities I enjoy (albeit certainly not the weather).
What’s one thing someone would be surprised to learn about you?
I was 7 weeks premature and only weighed 2.5 pounds or so at birth. Also, that I was extremely hyperactive as a child and, when my mother did not want me on medicine, the doctor suggested that I drink coffee every day -- Ritalin and caffeine are both stimulants so he thought it would work. The coffee calmed me down. If you research it today, you will find many articles about that impact, but who knows, perhaps I was the test case for hyperactivity and caffeine 40 years or so ago.
What issues are you passionate about/what inspires you?
Although, it is a cliché, I would have to say that I am passionate about local government. I cannot think of a better career to be involved with. To have an impact on your neighbors and in the City where you live is truly special. I only wish more would consider local government as a career option.