Friday, August 19, 2011

Oregon Commission for the Blind's vending program director put on leave pending investigation

SALEM -- The director at the Oregon Commission for the Blind who oversees vending and cafeteria programs in public buildings statewide has been put on paid leave pending an investigation.

Commission administrator Linda Mock confirmed Thursday that Walter Reyes, head of the Business Enterprises Program, was put on administrative leave Aug. 1.

Mock said she could not discuss the reasons other than to say there is an "investigation occurring."

Reached at his home Thursday, Reyes said his lawyer had advised him not to comment.

The Secretary of State's auditors confirmed they are looking into contracts and consultants connected to the vending program as a follow up to a May 2009 audit that questioned sloppy financial tracking and spending.

A spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice said he could not "confirm or deny" whether the agency is conducting an investigation.

Reyes, who earns $68,052 a year, was promoted in November 2009 to be director of the vending program.

His responsibilities include management of a $750,000 two-year budget and 17 licensed blind vendors who operate snack machines, coffee carts and cafeterias in hundreds of public buildings throughout Oregon.

The program is largely funded through federal dollars. Sales topped $1.8 million last year, with 11 percent funneled back to the state commission to be used to maintain equipment and other operations costs.

Randy Hauth, one of the licensed vendors and chair of a consumer committee that works with the commission, said his group had filed multiple grievances with the state about Reyes and the program's management.

"The agency is responsible for safeguarding and protecting the program and the rights of the licensed blind vendors and we contend they don't do that and haven't done that," Hauth said Thursday.

Mock said she could not comment on those complaints, citing the ongoing investigation.

Earlier this year, an outside consultant hired to assess the program found the blind vendors didn't trust Reyes or other commission managers. The two sides agreed on an improvement plan, which Hauth and others said was ignored.

--Michelle Cole

Michelle Cole is a reporter for the Oregonian newspaper.

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