American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota Executive Director Charles Samuelson, who has been one of the region's most respected, effective and outspoken voices on civil rights and civil liberties issues ranging from religious freedom and police reform to privacy, freedom of speech, and the rights of immigrants, announced today that he will step down from the post he held for 20 years.
"It is with a heavy heart that I announce my resignation," stated Charles Samuelson. "Being the Executive Director of the ACLU of Minnesota has been one of the great joys of my life."
Samuelson has been fighting a neurological disease, with no definitive diagnosis, for the past four years and goes on to say, "Initially, I was optimistic that aggressive treatment would contain if not cure this disease. Unfortunately, this was not the case. My energy level has slowly decreased and the even more aggressive treatments appear to have no effect. These troubled times require more than I am now able to provide."
Samuelson's retirement will become effective Feb. 28, 2017.
William Pentelovitch, board chair of the ACLU of Minnesota, said that "Chuck Samuelson has been a fierce defender and protector of civil liberties in Minnesota for twenty years, and he has been a great leader of the ACLU-MN, leading its growth into becoming the vibrant organization it is today. It has been my great privilege to have worked closely with him for many years."
During his tenure as the Executive Director, Samuelson brought focus to ACLU-MN priorities by creating departments focusing on education, legislation, communications and development. The staff has grown from three to nine with a budget of around $1 million a year. Charles led a reorganization of the structure of the ACLU-MN Board, implementing important best-practice reforms regarding term limits and board size. These changes ensured the vitality and viability of the organization and helped it become the stable and influential organization it is today.
Samuelson established two offices in Greater Minnesota, one in Bemidji focusing rectifying gross injustices faced by Native Americans in the criminal justice system, and the other in Mankato that focuses on disparities faced by the immigrant communities in Southern Minnesota. The Bemidji office has since closed, but the Mankato office continues to serve as a beacon of liberty and justice in southern Minnesota. It is one of the few civil liberties/legal rights organizations working with immigrants outside of the Twin Cities.
Since he took over in 1996, the ACLU-MN has taken on landmark cases in Minnesota that have set precedent or shifted public awareness. Thanks to his leadership these cases were seen to fruition, and consequently resulted in expanded access to rights for all Minnesotans. Landmark cases include overturning Minnesota's sodomy law (Doe. V. Ventura), overturning a law that prohibited the use of certain tribal IDs to register to vote and winning one of the first racial profiling settlements in the country against the Drug Enforcement Agency for racial profiling in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.
Teresa Nelson, the Legal Director, will serve as Interim Executive Director beginning March 1. John B. Gordon, a retired partner of Faegre Baker Daniels, will serve as Interim Legal Director. The ACLU-MN's Board of Directors has created a search committee to find his replacement. The position will officially be open in the coming weeks.