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Va. ACLU director to step down

Monday - 3/19/2012, 8:57pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia's longtime executive director, Kent Willis, plans to step down after nearly 25 years with the advocacy group.

The group said Monday that Willis plans to step down when his replacement is found. He started as associate director in October 1987 and was promoted to executive director in March 1989.

During his tenure, the group grew from two full-time staffers to the current nine, with a tenfold annual budget increase. It also created a volunteer lobbying group that has grown from fewer than 100 people to nearly 2,000.

Before joining the ACLU, Willis was with Housing Opportunities Made Equal for 10 years, including the last five as executive director. Previous jobs included a stint at Richmond Goodwill Industries as director of rehabilitation and as the manager of the Virginia Bay Committee, an environmental lobbying group.

A Hampton native, Willis graduated from the College of William & Mary in 1971.

"As a Virginian with deep roots in the state, I have always felt a strong connection between the fundamental constitutional rights the ACLU defends and the origins of those rights dating back to Madison, Mason, Jefferson," Willis said in a statement.

Willis had informed the ACLU's board last fall of his intent to leave, and the group began a nationwide search for a new director. The board expects to announce the replacement soon.

The ACLU cited several notable efforts during Willis's tenure, including: creation of a project that assisted Virginia minority groups during the 1991 redistricting process, enabling them to successfully lobby for racially fair election plans; the successful challenge of public libraries' restrictions on patrons' access to the Internet; and the frequent defense of inmates' right to practice their religion.


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