KEY ADVOCATE RESIGNS FROM AUTISM COUNCIL WITH SCATHING LETTER TO SENATE REPUBLICANS, WARNS FAMILIES WILL SUFFER
March 5, 2019
(ST.PAUL) - The Policy Director of the Minnesota Autism Council has resigned his post with a stern warning that families will suffer, if the State Senate does not take action.
In his resignation letter, Noah McCourt, laid out serious allegations against State Senator Jim Abeler and other members of the Senate Republican Caucus about how their actions are undermining the safety, well-being and security of thousands of families across the state.
"I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, sustainability, and wellbeing of individuals in the spectrum who are being left behind and have nowhere to turn, as well as expose Minnesotans to serious public health related repercussions.” McCourt wrote in his resignation letter. "
McCourt's letter is full of frustration and anger at the Senate Republican Caucus, who McCourt says are willfully and deliberately placing Minnesotans at risk
"I am now in the untenable position of seeing Minnesotans on the spectrum and their families being systematically placed at risk, without the ability to help them.” McCourt wrote to Abeler and Senate Leadership. "I fear that if significant changes are not made in the way that the Senate leadership is choosing to address Autism prevalence rates in Minnesota, families will be ruined and those in the spectrum will continue to fall through the cracks."
McCourt specifically lashed out at Abeler because of his selection of a leader of the Anti-Vaccine movement and proponent of institutionalization to serve as Chair of the policy committee, according to McCourt, Sheryl Grassie “bullied self-advocates, created a hostile work environment and made policy decisions without his permission.” In his letter, the director said that he has been "the Council’s policy liaison in name only." And that "the current policy chair, with the authority and position she has been given....is the most significant threat to the continued work of the Council. "
Leaders in the Autism community cite that McCourt’s scathing resignation letter raises questions as to the integrity of the Council..
Idil Abdul, a well-known Somali Parent advocate issued a statement this afternoon about McCourt's resignation saying: "I and so many other parents are aware of Dr. Grassie's History and bully tactics it is sad and unfortunate that Abeler allowed her treat him in such a inhumane manner. The Council lacked diversity to begin with and because of Abeler's inability to practice what he preaches, the Council has lost the only person of Color on the Executive Board."
DFL Leaders also are raising questions regarding the Council. CD2 DFL Chair Susan Moravec, called McCourt “diplomatic, intelligent and articulate” and Parent Advocate Joy Thao, who who resigned from the Council citing concerns for racial Animus praised McCourt’s Courage. “I completely see the games to divert power and empty positions without authority are meant to be kicked to the curb” Thao said.
McCourt’s successor has yet to be determined. He also serves on the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and has chaired the State Subcommittee on children's mental health since 2017.
*This is the full text of the four-page resignation letter Noah McCourt, the outgoing policy director of the Minnesota Autism Council sent to Senate Leadership.
The past few months I have served as the policy liaison of the The legislative work group known as the Minnesota Autism Council. In some ways it has been one of the more fulfilling experiences afforded to me. During my tenure, my fellow members of the council’s executive board have worked diligently to take the Council from an embattled organization that lacked credibility, process and an inability to move forward on those issues most pertinent to our community to a model that is sustainable and productive.
The years prior to the development of the council were marked with conflict between advocacy orgs and state agencies including Department of Human Services who are at the front lines of caring for individuals with developmental disabilities in their families. Throughout the process, I have worked to smooth over old wounds and establish productive relationships with the incoming administration and agency leadership including in the often overlooked areas of public Safety and corrections. I would encourage you to continue to reach out to members of the legislature and agency leadership and ask if their concerns regarding the council have in any way been put at ease by my constant reassurances and outreach.
The theme of my efforts has been community inclusion because if individuals in the spectrum don't have the ability to thrive in their prospective communities than nothing else matters. Chair Wilson and the executive board have taken concrete steps to move the council forward with this vision in mind and it is my hope that they will continue to do so.
The Council has weighed in on such items as Police training, Addressing parental fees for the TEFRA program and considering how to improve methodology and what studies to conduct in an effort to gain more adequate numbers on the prevalence of Autism in Minnesota.
In addition to confronting these issues, the Council has established clearly defined processes for conducting its business. The model that we designed is fresh and innovative and if successful could be easily replicated by other states who are interested in better serving individuals in the Autism spectrum.
Despite these accomplishments, I am now in the untenable position of seeing Minnesotans on the spectrum and their families being systematically placed at risk, without the ability to help them. This is the first time in my entire career in advocacy that I feel my hands are tied in serving my community. I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, sustainability, and wellbeing of individuals in the spectrum who are being left behind and have nowhere to turn, as well as the Minnesotans who are being put at risk of serious public health related repercussions.
Because of the personal respect that I once held for you and the love I have for Minnesota's Autism community. I feel the obligation to explain the obstacles currently facing the council's success. I firmly believe that my successor will not be successful unless you support them in resolving these issues.
First, despite being duly elected I have effectively been stripped of all power to perform my duties as the council's policy liaison. In a direct shot at my competency, YOUR office decided to create a policy commitee and refuse to allow me to chair it because I have Autism. Rather you appointed Dr. Sheryl Grassie, whom I defeated for policy liaison through a fair election process. She is a devout member of the anti-vaccine movement, a proponent of Autism farms and institutionalization and a social pariah in the disability community to be an "asset" to me. I was not asked. No one conferred with me..it was just dropped in me.
Dr. Grassie has engineered the council’s selection process, driven out members, engaged in the bullying of self-advocates, created a hostile work environment, exposed the council and vicariously the legislature to lawsuits for violating provisions of the ADA and the Minnesota Human Rights act due to her conduct. She has also brazenly overridden the Executive Board’s decisions, been blatantly insubordinate and made entire policy initiatives without my knowledge, approval and or input. If her antics continue to be rubber stamped by your office, the Council will continue to lack credibility at the legislature and with the community at large. Throughout my term, I have truly been the Council’s policy liasion in name only. The current policy chair, with the authority and position she has been given by your office is the most significant threat to the continued work of the Council.
Second the intersectional relationships I have worked to build are being placed in serious jeopardy. The negative attention garnered by the presence of the Anti-Vaccine movement is creating fear in communities of color, who already face significant risk of health disparity and have been historically unfairly targeted by the Vaccine Safety council for outreach on their pseudo -scientific theories. I say pseudo-science because that's exactly what it is and the continued effort to allow the council to be used as a platform to spread misinformation is damaging to the council's efforts and the community at large.
In conclusion I am not broken I do not need to be fixed. My tenure in the council has been derogatory and dehumanizing and although I am honored that my colleagues elected me to serve as the Council's policy liaison i have serious reservations about the Council’s influence on Public Policy as well as it’s sustainability. I fear that if significant changes are not made in the way that the Senate Republican caucus is choosing to address Autism prevalence rates in Minnesota, families will be ruined and those in the spectrum will continue to fall through the cracks.
Noah J. S McCourt