Braille Monitor                                                                  November 1985


Lawsuit Looms Over City-County Vendor Pact

by Rick Shaughnessy
Journal Staff Writer
Reprinted from the
Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal
September 19, 1985

When the cafeteria opens in the new blind businessman might not be its Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Local operator and the city and county govern Government Center later this fall, a ments likely will be sued because of it.

Fred Schroeder, President of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, told members of a joint committee of city and county elected officials Wednesday they will illegally keep a blind vendor out of work if they award the concession for the new facility to a sighted vendor.

"The law requires preference to the blind. If a blind operator is available, preference means just that. He gets first crack at the position," Schroeder told committee members. He referred to a state law requiring that blind individuals be given a preference in public buildings and that they not be charged rent or utilities.

He said the law is intended to ease the 70 percent unemployment rate among blind New Mexicans.

And he added that Joe Ulibarri, who has operated the coffee shop in City Hall for 19 years, "would be out of a job and out of a means of a livelihood" if his concession is closed in favor of another vendor.

Over those warnings and the objections of City Councilor Pat Baca and County Commissioner Pat Padilla, the Intergovernmental Committee of the city and the county voted at the meeting to find a food service operator for the new building through the competitive bidding process but also "to find a place for Joe."

Under the bidding procedure approved by the committee, a handicapped individual would be awarded the concession if his bid was within 10 percent of the bid submitted by the lowest nonhandicapped bidder. The governments are hoping to gain income from the operator to defer the costs of new cafeteria furnishings. Ulibarri said he'll take what comes along.

"I'd prefer to be over there," said Ulibarri, 51, a 22-year veteran of the restaurant business, who previously worked in factories and shops but says he became unemployable because of high insurance for blind employees. "It's a bigger place ... I'll stick with whatever they give to me."

The measure triggered a denunciation by Baca, who told fellow committee members: "This is an obligation the city has to work with the handicapped and the blind. I think it would be wrong for the city to go out to McDonald's." Orlando Giron, director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation of the state Department of Education, said from Santa Fe he will discuss the matter with his division attorneys this week. Schroeder said if the state doesn't pursue legal action his organization will consider taking the two governments to court.

"The 10 percent advantage is window dressing," he said, adding that issuing the request for proposals "is to say the statute is unconstitutional."

City Councilor Fred Burns, who chairs the joint committee, said that assessment of the state law may be correct. "Clearly, the statute either does not apply to what we're doing here or if it does apply it's so restrictive it's unconstitutional," he said.