David Skilbrad was appointed Executive Director of the Minnesota State Council on Disability at the October 5 Council meeting. The Council members are appointed by the Governor and represent the entire state. Margot Imdieke Cross has been the interim Director since July, when Clell Hemphill retired after ten years.
The Council can play an important role in state government and the disability community. I had the opportunity speak to Mr. Skilbrad just before going to press.
AP: Why don’t you give our readers info on your background?
Well, I have a little over 15 years of experience at the Minnesota State Senate. The last three years have been with Senator Moe. A dozen or so years prior to that, working for another state Senator and in a research office here at the office of the Minnesota State Senate. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in the senate, working with members and working with staff. I have also gotten to know a lot of folks like you who are active here at the capitol.
AP: What has prepared you for the position of the executive director?
I think my experience at the capitol is an experience where, to be successful, you need to be able to facilitate a lot of different individuals with different needs, perspectives and goals. To help them to come together to support an issue or to be opposed to an issue and find the common ground that unites a number of individuals into groups. That’s one thing that I can do, and do well, that will be helpful for Minnesotans and, in particular, citizens with disabilities in this state.
AP: Is it important that a person with a disability holds a leadership position in the Council?
I believe it is important but it is not necessary. I have a minor case of cerebral palsy. That experience will inform my thinking and decisions in this position. I think it’s important that disabled people or people of minority or women have access to equal opportunities in the workplace, the education field, the ability to enter and succeed in politics, etc. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have the personal experience in order to represent someone who has a different experience than ours.
AP: Should the Council have better relationships with other state departments?
I do believe so. That is one other asset that I bring to this position that will help facilitate building those relationships with state departments. I’m going to make greater efforts to coordinate or allow for contributions to the Council and its goals by these other agencies. I want to see where the overlaps occur across other agencies so that the Council can have a more dynamic relationship between agencies that have programs or divisions of interests in disabled issues and disabled citizens.
AP: It would be nice if Department of Human Service or Department of Economic Services would review proposed legislation with the Council before laws move through the legislature, so the Council could provide feedback as a bill is introduced . Do you think that’s a good idea?
It’s not only a good idea but it is required by statute. The statute for the council says it is part, that the duties and powers of the council are “to advise state agencies.” So, I think that’s part of what was initially conceived when the council was created. I would hope other agencies would see the benefit from the council being a resource to them, that they overlap to this area.
AP: Do you think its going to be difficult to build those relationships between the departments and the Council?
I am optimistic about being successful because I have met a lot of staff in these agencies and most of these commissioners. They would see this as an opportunity. Having that relationship with them will make it more likely that the Council will find success in this endeavor.
AP: Do you have a vision for the future of the council?
The details of my vision for the future will come from the members of the council and members of disability organizations who have been working so hard for so long on these issues. I’m going to look to people who have experience in the details and the issues for the past. My vision is that the council could be a more active and supportive player to the other organizations that exist. We could support them in their legislative and other efforts. Likewise, I hope that they could support the Council in areas that it might be most appropriate for the Council to take a lead in. I want to strengthen relationships with all of the active disability groups, state agencies, or state legislatures.