Head of Blind Industries dismissed

December 18, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

The director of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland has been fired by its volunteer board of directors after months of operating in red ink because of differences over management approaches.

Richard J. Brueckner, who had run Blind Industries since 1989, was informed of his immediate dismissal by board Chairman Frederick Puente when he arrived at its offices on Strickland Street in Southwest Baltimore last Friday.

Mr. Brueckner had been at the center of a controversy two years ago when a Division of Vocational Education audit found Blind Industries was showing large financial losses, raising top executives' salaries, employing fewer blind workers, and using its funds to pay for Mr. Brueckner's country club membership.

But a request by the attorney general for a court-appointed receiver to run Blind Industries was denied by Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, who instead called for a detailed state audit of Blind Industries' finances and programs.

Mr. Puente noted that an examination of the program found nothing seriously amiss, and said Mr. Brueckner's firing last week resulted from "nothing unsavory."

"The board determined that Mr. Brueckner's management and guidance of the organization was not what it wanted at this point in time," said Mr. Puente, who also offered praise for the fired executive.

Blind Industries was founded in 1908 to provide blind adults with education, vocational training and jobs. The not-for-profit agency receives about $1.2 million a year from the state, and its nine-member board is appointed by the governor.

The agency manufactures and sells products primarily to government agencies, and has been trying to develop markets in the private sector for reuseable bags.

Mr. Puente said Blind Industries' losses -- reportedly amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 18 months -- appeared due at least in part to the downturn in the economy as well as errors in decision making.

"This was not an easy decision for the board," said Mr. Puente, owner of an Eastern Shore management recruiting business. "I truly believe Mr. Brueckner was honorable and his commitment was unquestioned."

He said the board would form a committee after assessing the state of Blind Industries, to "make sure the organization is on sound footing."

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