Advocacy group for blind ruled ineligible for preferential treatment in state contract; Agency had sought pact on office supplies


A Baltimore County judge has ruled that an advocacy group for the blind is not entitled to preferential treatment when the state buys up to $5 million in office supplies.

Circuit Judge John F. Fader II said in an opinion released yesterday that the procurement law giving Blind Industries and Services of Maryland preference in state contracts does not apply to the office supply pact that it sought last summer. The law says that the state should buy supplies and services from the agency whenever possible. The contract was split among five companies.

"It's a terrible decision for us," said Paul Becker, director of sales for the Baltimore-based agency, which employs more than 100 legally blind workers.

Becker said the decision will make it more difficult for the agency to pay for the training and employment it provides for some of the estimated 20,000 blind people in the state.

Attorneys for the agency vowed to ask the Court of Appeals to reverse the decision. They said they plan to request an expedited appeal to speed the review process by the state's highest court, which can take months or years.

"We want to get this resolved as quickly as possible," said Thomas H. Wood IV, a Blind Industries lawyer.

In his 10-page ruling, Fader noted that the contract would mean revenues of up to $5 million, but that most of the work would be done by subcontractors and Blind Industries would need to hire only about 10 workers.

"Even at $10 per hour for ten full time workers, the earnings inuring to the benefit of these individuals is very, very small compared to the overall value of the total contract and the profits to be realized," he said.

Becker said most office supply companies use subcontractors to meet orders. Blind Industries wanted to "step into the shoes" of the state's former office supplies provider after its contract expired, he said. "We took a look at what was going on in the marketplace, and we tried to mirror it."

Blind Industries has sold paper supplies to the state for years. The agency sought the office supply contract in June after the state cut its purchases and revenues dropped. Revenue from sales to the state totaled $300,000 three years ago but declined to $150,000 last year, according to court records.

The agency also has state contracts to supply candy for vending machines, cleaning supplies for office buildings and shaving kits for state prison inmates, the records show. Those contracts were unaffected by the ruling.

Unlike the other contracts, the office supply pact would have set up Blind Industries as a pass-through agency, with subcontractors doing most of the work, said Pamila Brown, counsel to the state Department of General Services. "There wasn't any value being added to the goods that would have been supplied in the contract," she said.

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