ACLU's Executive Director in Vermont Announces Intention to Retire in 2000

Affiliate: ACLU of Vermont
September 20, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU of Vermont
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MONTPELIER, VT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont announced today that Leslie Williams, Executive Director of the affiliate since 1988, will be stepping down from the post early in the new year.

“I’ll be celebrating my 65th birthday in January, and it seems to me that the beginning of the millennium is a good time to end one phase in my life and begin a new one,” Williams said.

“Leading the ACLU these past 12 years has been immensely satisfying for me personally, and I’m proud of what the organization has been able to accomplish,” Williams added. She cited as perhaps the most influential and far-reaching civil liberties case brought during her tenure the ACLU’s educational equity challenge in which a unanimous state supreme court ordered lawmakers to come up with a more equitable way to pay for schools.

The ACLU had claimed, in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Vermont schoolchildren, taxpayers and school districts, that the wide disparity in local property taxes among cities and towns violated the state Constitution’s guarantee to provide every student with equitable educational opportunities.

“Thanks to the work of seven superb volunteer attorneys in preparing and arguing this case,” she said, “the quality of education children receive in Vermont can never again depend entirely on what town they live in.”

Williams acknowledged that the legislature’s implementation of the decision through Act 60 has stirred controversy, but maintained that the principle of equal opportunity is here to stay.

“We’re not the first or the only state to decide that education is the state’s responsibility and that local property taxes are an inherently unfair method of paying for schools,” she said. “I believe Vermonters will do the job right in the end, and be proud of it.”

Williams also cited the significant impact of a lawsuit brought jointly with the ACLU’s National Prison Project to improve prison conditions in Vermont that resulted in major changes in the state prison system. Another highlight of the ACLU’s work, Williams said, was the Chittenden case in which the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer funds could not be used to pay tuition for local students to attend pervasively sectarian schools; and ACLU participation through an amicus brief in the same-sex marriage case now awaiting a decision by the Vermont Supreme Court.

Williams said that other notable accomplishments include growth in membership and income; the establishment of an active Legal Advisory Panel; more and deeper focus on public education, including a series of Continuing Legal Education seminars for lawyers and lay people on civil liberties issues and constitutional law; and continuing an informed and active presence in the legislature.

In her post-ACLU life, Williams said she looks forward to “a less public and controversial but equally interesting life with more time for grandchildren, gardening, writing, traveling and just contemplating.”

“Twelve years is a long time,” Williams said of her tenure. “I think it will be good for ACLU to have fresh leadership and new energy, and good for me to start off in a new direction.”

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