Efficiency a priority for city attorney Jackson
‘I was very happy that the commission ultimately recognized the benefits that I bring to this position and made the right decision.’
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
More than 10 years ago, when Cassandra Jackson could have considered entering the fray to become general counsel for the Florida Department of Management Services, she simply sought out other opportunities.
She could have stayed in hopes of one day getting the top job in the department. The sense of uncertainty was too strong, though.
“I wasn’t up to the fight at that time,” Jackson said.
Much more experienced and ranked among the 1 percent of licensed lawyers with a Florida Bar certification in government law, Jackson couldn’t help realizing a sense of déjà vu when she was the leading candidate to replace retiring Lew Shelley as Tallahassee’s city attorney.
“Cassandra has always been very bright and very eager to get into new issues and new problems and research them thoroughly and discuss them,” Shelley said. “She was a valuable member of the staff even before she became a deputy under me.”
Just as she did when she was Shelley’s assistant, Jackson said she will work to make the office one with a staff of proficient assistant attorneys. While she doesn’t plan any major changes to the current staff, Jackson said she’d like to have more attorneys to handle some of the work that the city outsources.
“I believe we can be more economical and efficient by hiring someone as opposed to sending work out,” she said.
During the search for Shelley’s replacement, Jackson seemingly was a shoo-in to replace him. She stood head and shoulders above other candidates, leaving the City Commission to decide her fate. It took two contentious months before she was appointed.
She waited it out patiently, never doubting that she’d get the job that Shelley had recommended her for.
“This time I just view it as a growth opportunity,” Jackson said. “All these things build character because I knew my credentials. I knew who I was and I believed whether it worked out here or someplace else I was going to come out on top.”
“I think in the end, the right prevailed,” she said. “I’m glad to serve the citizens of Tallahassee.
“I was very happy that the commission ultimately recognized the benefits that I bring to this position and made the right decision.”
Jackson grew up in Jacksonville as the middle child of three children. After graduating from Stetson University law school, she and her husband Jesse L. Jackson settled in Tallahassee, where she’s worked for various government agencies most of her career.
Prior to the move to Tallahassee in 1990, she worked as assistant city attorney for the City of St. Petersburg. Jackson went on to serve as assistant county attorney for Leon County for a short stint.
Recognizing her talent, former governor Lawton Chiles appointed Jackson as a commissioner on the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission. That was followed by her appointment as deputy general counsel to the Florida Department of Management Services.
Jackson left Tallahassee briefly when her husband of 32 years became Superintendent of Lake Wales’ charter school system in 2008. Meanwhile, she took a job as assistant city attorney in Lakeland.
While Jackson has developed a passion that makes her one of the best in legal government work, it was the influence of a fictional criminal defense lawyer that influenced her career choice. As a child, she was fascinated by Perry Mason and seldom missed an episode of the CBS television series.
Her curiosity about the way Mason found a way each week to win his cases, kept her enthralled, Jackson said.
“I just liked his thinking and how he could figure out the end game and turn it around on people,” Jackson said. “He was my inspiration and I never wanted to be anything but a lawyer.”
The day that Jackson was surprisingly appointed to the job that she’d so patiently waited for after two previous votes – one resulting in her being named interim city attorney – throngs of supporters were at City Hall. They were always there.
The commission’s hesitation sparked strong support for Jackson, who said she received countless messages of encouragement.
“There were so many people that I have not met personally,” she said. “You’re always amazed when people respect a process and want to see that process come to the conclusion it should have.
“It was just great that people recognized the good work I did and came out and supported me.”
Jackson’s love of community runs deep and it’s one reason Shelley said he didn’t give a second thought to recommending her to the city attorney post.
“She is very much a part of this community and wants to do everything she can to make it a better place for all the citizens – north side, east side, south side and west side,” he said. “She is not a person that does not have her community involvement. More importantly, she has a desire to make a difference and not just as the chief legal officer of the city.”