Sequoyah County, state at odds over snack machines

Sunday, July 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALLISAW (AP) _ Sequoyah County commissioners are at odds with the state over whether a blind man will operate snack machines in the Sallisaw courthouse.

A 1937 Oklahoma law requires local officials to give preference to blind businessmen when allowing vending machines in public places.

``I think the state has a great program for the handicapped, but we have a different interpretation of the law,'' said County Commissioner Cleon Harrell.

Harrell has received two letters from the state Department of Rehabilitation Services asking the county to replace vending machines in the courthouse with others operated by Bill Crowder.

Crowder, who is blind, maintains eight vending machines at an Interstate 40 rest stop east of Sallisaw. The state agency says Crowder has lost most of his profits since traffic was rerouted after a May 26 bridge collapse.

``Politics is what is stopping me from putting in vending machines,'' said Crowder, 65. ``I guess they don't think a visual-handicapped person can run a business.''

Commissioners in June offered to make room for Crowder's machines if the state paid a fee. Since then, commissioners have offered the space for free, but insist they will not remove the machines that are already there.

The state claims Crowder's machines should not be competing against any others.

Clay Swanson with the Department of Rehabilitation Services says the state buys a vending machine for $3,000 and enters an agreement with a vendor to operate and maintain it.

Sequoyah County makes about $300 a year from the existing machines as vendors pay a required 17 percent of their earnings, Harrell said.

``We just want a level playing field,'' Harrell said. ``To be fair with everyone, we should reimburse the money back to the vendors who have paid their fee in advance. It's not fair to remove public vending machines or have them pay a fee when the state isn't required to pay a fee.''

Both sides have asked for legal opinions from the district attorney and attorney general.