Elizabeth Jacobi Assistant City Attorney City of Cedar Rapids Elizabeth Jacobi’s version of her job description may belie how her approach influences how Cedar Rapids policies affect its citizens. “What the city attorney’s office does is to advise the council and anyone who works for the council, either directly or indirectly,” Ms. Jacobi said. “The […]
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Assistant City Attorney
City of Cedar Rapids
Elizabeth Jacobi’s version of her job description may belie how her approach influences how Cedar Rapids policies affect its citizens.
“What the city attorney’s office does is to advise the council and anyone who works for the council, either directly or indirectly,” Ms. Jacobi said. “The city attorney, manager, and city clerk all work for the council.”
Taking on those duties after nearly 15 years in private practice with the Lynch Dallas firm was “a shift, in terms of having one client instead of multiple clients,” said Ms. Jacobi, who made the move in 2006. “Municipal law is an area that really covers every topic you can encounter, so you do have to become a generalist.”
Ms. Jacobi became Cedar Rapids government’s lead lawyer with City Attorney Jim Flitz’ retirement in late June. She served as interim city attorney until Oct. 20, when the City Council named Vanessa Chavez to permanently fill the position.
“In every sense, Liz is truly a woman of influence,” Mr. Flitz wrote in support of her recognition. “She serves to improve our community every day. She is a role model for young women who may be considering a career in law or public service.”
After growing up in Waterloo, Ms. Jacobi earned her bachelor’s at Drake University and a law degree from the University of Iowa in 1989. She interned at Lynch Dallas before joining the firm in 1990.
“I was still in law school, and she was a mentor to me,” said Amy Reasner, who interned at Lynch Dallas in 1990. “When you’re a baby lawyer, you’re terrified.”
Ms. Reasner cites Ms. Jacobi’s sense of humor as helping her gain her footing in the legal world.
“She doesn’t take herself too seriously,” she said. “She has the most infectious laugh.”
That didn’t interfere with Ms. Jacobi’s approach to her job, according to Ms. Reasner. “She’s a superb attorney, a very precise and skilled attorney,” she said.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said Ms. Jacobi helped settle him into his new job after he arrived in 2012, introducing him to her office and the court system in Linn County. “By doing this, I obtained a personal perspective of the court procedures in Iowa, easing me into my new position in a new and unfamiliar jurisdiction.”
Ms. Jacobi also worked closely with police in developing two noted initiatives: The SAFE-CR nuisance abatement program and its supporting ordinances, and the city’s automated traffic enforcement (ATE) effort, commonly known as its “traffic cameras.”
SAFE-CR, which integrates police and city code enforcement to address nuisance properties, “got off the ground because the city has always had as one of its core principles to have safe neighborhoods where each individual can enjoy their full property rights,” Ms. Jacobi said.
Similarly, Ms. Jacobi developed the legal foundation of ATE that has withstood court challenges and state legislative attempts to eliminate the program.
“The very short answer on that one is safety for both the motoring public and for first responders,” Ms. Jacobi said. “The primary challenges were on the constitutionality and whether or not the state law preempts the local ordinance. We won across the board on those.”
Her time with the city also saw Cedar Rapids weather and recover from two notable natural disasters, the 2008 flood and the 2020 derecho.
“The flood was an unmitigated disaster, yet localized to certain parts of the city,” Ms. Jacobi said. “There was a lot of work on trying to pull together resources and trying to comply with federal and state laws.”
The derecho “had a much wider footprint,” Ms. Jacobi recalled. “We had some warning for the flood, but really zero warning for the derecho. Safety and health were very immediate concerns.”
Each disaster left the city’s legal staff to balance the priorities of its residents and property interests.
“A lot of people didn’t like one course of action or another, so a bit of it was the classic not being able to please every party,” Ms. Jacobi said.
Finding that common ground is also a challenge in the debate over policing practices.
“Good people can disagree wholeheartedly on issues, and the city has to once again balance the interests of its constituents for the greater good,” Ms. Jacobi said. “I don’t know whether folks who have opinions on either side of a particular issue know how difficult it is for the city to balance.”
Amy Stevens, GreenState Credit Union vice president, admires Ms. Jacobi’s “ability to bring other women of influence together in the community to solve problems, discuss local, state or national initiatives and encourage women to engage their elected officials.”
“Her reach and influence is subtle but leaves a lasting mark in the community and with each individual fortunate enough to work with her,” Ms. Stevens wrote in her nomination.
“I love the city, and I try always to give to my community. I find that the most rewarding way to use my skills.”