St. Paul picks new rights director

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • September 6, 2012 - 8:27 PM

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has tapped a private-sector purchasing veteran to lead the city's Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity office.

Jessica Kingston, who also has been the volunteer chair of the Edina Human Rights Commission since 2009, was named to succeed Luz Frias, who left in April.

Kingston called her new job the ideal marriage of her personal passion for human rights and her professional background in contract compliance and procurement.

She will take over the post on Oct. 2, leaving her position as associate director of purchasing for the Minnetonka e-commerce firm Digital River Inc. She will be paid $121,000 a year.

"Jessie has an impressive track record of leadership in human rights and remarkable experience in procurement, both qualities that will be of tremendous value to the city," Coleman said. "... I look forward to welcoming her to St. Paul."

She will oversee an agency with a $5 million annual budget that was created a little more than three years ago to address a lag in the city's hiring of minority contractors. According to a letter sent last month by the Professional Employees Association to the city, the agency also is afflicted with high turnover and low morale created by unclear operating procedures.

As chair of the Edina commission, Kingston has proven herself a leader in the human rights arena, Coleman said. Last month, the Edina panel took a stance against the November ballot question on whether to limit marriage to the union of a man and a woman. The panel urged a no vote.

At the time, Kingston said, "Our nation was founded on the principle of individual liberty--of citizens being allowed to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they don't interfere with the freedom of others."

In 2010, the Edina panel recommended and the City Council adopted a domestic partners ordinance allowing same-sex couples to register with the city and receive benefits. Kingston, 39, lives in Edina and plans to continue in her position on the commission.

In addition to Digital River, Kingston worked at GE Fleet Services and ING Americas. She grew up in Minneapolis and Edina and graduated from the Blake School, Macalester College and the MBA program at Metro State University.

She said her commitment to equality grew out of her family as one of four mixed-race and disabled children adopted by a white couple. "My parents have always been champions of diversity and human rights," she said.

Kingston has traveled the world extensively. She also enjoys biking and kayaking around the cities.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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