Attorney for city of Alexandria honored for diversity, equity work

After the death of George Floyd last May, Tom Jacobson said it became apparent to the executive committee that the Minnesota Association of City Attorneys was the perfect forum for helping cities respond to that crisis and all that it revealed.

Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson, attorney for the city of Alexandria, was honored for his work on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Jacobson is the president of the Minnesota Association of City Attorneys and served on the association’s 2020 executive committee, along with two others, Maria Cisneros and Jared Shepherd.

The committee received the Public Lawyer Diversity Award from the Public Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association that recognizes outstanding effort and dedication by a public lawyer who has made an impact in one or two ways:

  • Improving the employment opportunities for lawyers from groups historically under-represented because of race, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental disability or sexual orientation.

  • Eliminating bias based on race, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental disability and sexual orientation in employment of lawyers.

Nominees must have achieved success by influencing individuals from these groups to pursue careers as lawyers by increasing advancement opportunities, improving the cultural competence and climate of public law offices, or other efforts that promote diversity in the legal profession.
After the death of George Floyd last May, Jacobson said it became apparent to the executive committee that the Minnesota Association of City Attorneys was the perfect forum for helping cities respond to that crisis and all that it revealed.

“Through our discussions, we realized the challenge of moving our membership to action,” Jacobson said. “Our client cities are as diverse as the people who live in them. Each city and town have different issues and different perspectives on how to address them.”


“So, our goal became to develop programming that would be beneficial to all Minnesota cities, whether big or small, metro or rural, diverse or homogenous,” he added. “This resulted in the development of two programs – the Just Deeds Coalition and the Facing Forward educational series.”

The Just Deeds Coalition was Cisneros’ brainchild. It’s a network of attorneys who have volunteered to help people discharge racially restrictive covenants from their property records. Racially restrictive covenants are restrictions that were once placed on real estate documents such as deeds and zoning ordinances, to prohibit people of certain races from living in certain neighborhoods.

Jacobson offered an example: A 1937 plat in the City of Richfield included the following: “No race or nationality other than white persons shall use or occupy any dwelling on any lot except that this covenant shall not prevent the occupancy by domestic servants of a different race when employed by any owner or tenant.”

These covenants, Jacobson said, have been illegal, null, and void for decades. However, the Minnesota state Legislature recently passed a law establishing a process a person may use if they want to discharge a covenant appearing on their property records.

“Attorneys volunteering through the Just Deeds Coalition help those people get that done,” Jacobson said.

The Just Deeds Coalition is largely focused on the Twin Cities metropolitan area because racially restrictive covenants are virtually non-existent in greater Minnesota. However, it is an example of identifying an issue that exists in some Minnesota cities and then developing a strategy that is narrowly tailored to address it, Jacobson said.

The Facing Forward series has broader application throughout the state.

Past events included a panel discussion that Jacobson moderated, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Municipal Governance and Process.”


Future topics include issues in policing, and Alexandria Police Chief Scott Kent has volunteered to contribute to that discussion, according to Jacobson.

“One of the big takeaways from these discussions is that there is no cookie-cutter method for addressing these issues,” Jacobson said. “That is because not every city has the same challenges. No city should assume that because another city has a certain problem, that they do, too. Nor should any city assume that a solution developed in one community is needed locally.”

Jacobson emphasized that it’s critical to note that these discussions are not about race only. Disability, age, poverty, housing, religion, and many other factors come into play. “Each community should assess its own needs and find solutions that work for them,” he said.

In Alexandria, the city’s statement of values says the city will be “a welcoming, vibrant, diverse and culturally rich community with opportunities for positive social interaction and inclusive of all citizens.”

Jacobson said he believes the award reflects the city’s commitment to that value.

Jacobson said he’s grateful for the two attorneys, Pat Beety and Corinne Heine, who nominated the committee for the award, along with Cisneros and Shepherd.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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