Local named to statewide committee

Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday made a series of appointments to statewide councils and commissions. Among those appointees was longtime Brainerd City Council member and Crow Wing County Board member Mary Koep. She was named to the Statewide Independen...

Mary Koep
Mary Koep

Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday made a series of appointments to statewide councils and commissions.

Among those appointees was longtime Brainerd City Council member and Crow Wing County Board member Mary Koep. She was named to the Statewide Independent Living Council as an advocate member, replacing Mark Mertens. Her term runs from Jan. 31 through Jan. 7, 2019.

However, as of Monday afternoon, no one had notified Koep of the appointment and a Brainerd Dispatch reporter was the one who broke the news to her.

"This is awesome, awesome," Koep said.

Koep is passionate about ensuring people who are or may become vulnerable are not taken advantage of. No matter someone's circumstances, they should have the same rights and choices available to them as anyone else, she said.


"We have no throwaway people," Koep said. "We have people that we respect their dignity and when they need help maintaining that, that's what we do."

Koep served on the Minnesota Board on Aging for many years, including two years as board chair. She came away from the experience impressed with the work statewide committees can do and the potential they have to shape policy.

"If the members really take hold and they really make it their business to understand the issues," Koep said. "There is so much that you can be instrumental in getting done."

Statewide board members focus on statewide issues by bringing a unique perspective to the table, Koep said. Members bring up local concerns but understand solutions must be statewide, she said.

"Most of the issues are not unique to just one area," Koep said. "They are pretty much across the board."

Koep's term on the Brainerd City Council ended at the end of 2016 and she didn't run for re-election. Instead, she thought about pursuing another state committee appointment, because she enjoyed her past experience with them. She looked at openings on the Minnesota Secretary of State website and thought the Statewide Independent Living Council would be a good fit.

"This one I thought would sort of dovetail a little bit with some of the work that I had done with the (Minnesota) Board on Aging," Koep said.

Koep sent her application in before the Christmas deadline, she said. She was asked after Jan. 1 to fill out a background check, which meant she was a finalist. She filled it out, sent it in and hasn't heard a word since. With Dayton's recent health issues and the start of the legislative session, she thought the appointments got lost in the shuffle.


"You are telling me something that's making me very, very happy," Koep said.

Koep's first step now is to attend a meeting and find out what the council's goals and priorities are. She plans on being an active part of the committee and learning what the council is doing and what its legislative priorities are.

"I'm very interested in that particular area, but I have a lot to learn," Koep said.

Koep doesn't know who the existing members of the council are, as she didn't see the names before she applied. But in her past experience on state committees, she's worked with good people who are open to new ideas.

"I've never worked with anyone who wasn't open and easy to work with," Koep said. "Generally, there's a lot of good conversation and a lot of openness to ideas and thoughts."

Some of the meetings will be conducted by conference call while others will require Koep to attend in person. Either way, she said she's looking forward to getting involved.

Koep previously served on a state health advisory committee during her time on the Crow Wing County Board. She also served on a state transportation committee with a focus on transit issues and ensuring public transit is seen as vital and kept strong. She currently serves on the city of Brainerd's transportation committee.

Dayton's appointments were to the Clean Water Council, the Explore Minnesota Tourism Council, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources and the Statewide Independent Living Council. Other appointments Dayton made to the Statewide Independent Living Council include Jessica Andrist, Coon Rapids; Melissa Doherty, Marshall; Kimberly Hicks, Rochester; Zainab Jama, Minneapolis; Meredith Kujala, Cloquet; Gloria Lafriniere, Bagley; James Lovold, St. Paul; and Linda Lingen, St. Paul.


The council is supported by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and is a federally mandated council of community volunteers appointed by the governor. The council works with Centers for Independent Living and other state entities that provide services similar or complementary to independent living services. The council "advances the philosophy of independent living and promotes the integration and full inclusion of people with disabilities into Minnesota communities," according to its mission statement.

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