Personnel note: Howard Simon to again lead ACLU of Florida amid infighting, lawsuit
Image via ACLU of Florida.

Howard Simon ACLU of Florida
The group has undergone much upheaval since he retired 5 years ago.

Howard Simon, who helmed the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida for two-plus decades as Executive Director, is returning to job in an interim capacity while the organization searches for a more permanent leader.

The ACLU of Florida announced Thursday that its Executive Director, Tiffani Lennon, had resigned in order to return to Colorado and direct a new LGBTQ advocacy center.

Simon will work in Lennon’s stead as the nonprofit conducts a “nationwide search” for her successor, a Monday press note said.

Simon led the ACLU of Florida as its Executive Director for 21 years through 2018, steering the organization as it took on issues including the 2000 election, fights over abortion access, marriage equality and efforts to impose drug testing on state employees.

“I have loved retirement but am eager to help the ACLU of Florida through this leadership transition,” he said in a statement. “Florida needs a strong ACLU. We must do everything in our power to help the people of Florida resist a wave of unprecedented attacks on our most fundamental rights and liberties.”

Since his retirement, three people have held Simon’s old job with or without the word “interim” preceding it, including Micah Kubic from January 2019-2022, Amy Turkel in from January-September 2022 and Lennon from September 2022 to August 2023.

“We are immensely grateful to Tiffani for her stewardship of the ACLU of Florida during a difficult period,” ACLU of Florida Board President Eric Smaw said in a statement. “She demonstrated integrity and fortitude in helping the affiliate address long-standing problems on the former Board of Directors.”

Simon’s return — and Lennon’s departure — comes amid an internal war within the ACLU that earlier this month saw seven former members of the ACLU of Florida Board sue the national organization. The ex-members allege they were removed from their post for prioritizing constitutional rights over “partisan political activity.”

It also comes two weeks after the ACLU of Florida laid off 10% of its staff as part of a budget downsizing.

The former board members filed suit Aug. 11, requesting that the court restore their position and rule that the national ACLU and ACLU of Florida staff violated the law by removing them. Lennon stepped down from her post on Aug. 24.

The outcome of the lawsuit will determine whether regional, state and local chapters of the ACLU will be able to deviate in policy from the directives of national leadership.

As the Florida Bulldog detailed, the fight in Florida is between two ACLU factions. One represents the organization’s historical aim of defending free speech regardless of political bent. The other promotes a less tolerant tack for intolerance by refusing to defend hate speech and seeks to pursue socioeconomic goals beyond the group’s original civil liberties mandate.

Progressive staff and traditionalist board members in the ACLU of Florida clashed in recent years over the diverging goals, with the former arguing issues like student debt relief and climate change mitigation are vital causes and the latter maintaining the group should remain nonpartisan.

In 2017, the ACLU launched a nationwide campaign called “People Power” in response to former President Donald Trump’s election. The goal, according to the ACLU, was to create a “grassroots army … to defend civil liberties and civil rights.”

But the lawsuit filed this month alleges People Power instead acted in a partisan fashion under the ACLU banner, improperly raised funds and advocated “support for non-civil liberties goals.”

ACLU of Florida chapters passed resolutions in early 2017 urging the national organization to address those concerns. The two parties reached an agreement later that year, the lawsuit says, to limit People Power’s messaging within Florida to “the civil liberties priorities approved by the ACLU-FL board.”

The peace was short-lived, the lawsuit said, as the national organization began promoting broadband access, housing equity, student debt relief and climate change as civil liberties and ACLU issues.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Richard C. Russell

    August 29, 2023 at 9:44 am

    There is nothing “Civil” about the ACLU!

Comments are closed.


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