A little-known state government service bought 1,100 crab pots to help a hearing-impaired Belhaven man pursue his dream of starting a business.
The state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services approved using federal money to buy the $38,018 worth of traps as part of its rehabilitation program. The division is better known for preparing disabled people for work. Helping people start businesses is a smaller part of its job.
Some lawmakers say the state is wasting money on a losing proposition. Lanier Cansler, the Department of Health and Human Services secretary who personally approved the purchase, said he is satisfied that the department handled the case right. Nonetheless, he has asked the department's internal auditor for a review to make certain its procedures make sense.
Rep. Robert Grady, a Jacksonville Republican, happened across the crab pot buy as a member of a state board that approves some contracts. The notice last month about an "emergency" crab-pot purchase startled him.
Even though the pots are bought with federal money, Grady said taxpayers shouldn't be underwriting a shaky business venture while he's taking questions from constituents about teachers losing their jobs and elderly people losing home care.
"I think this is crazy," he said.
Dewayne Blackburn, 39, confirmed it was he who plans to start the business. Blackburn, who is hearing-impaired, said in a brief interview he wants to return to the work he used to do with his father.
"Me and my daddy used to do it a long time ago," he said.
With 1,100 pots, Blackburn will be going full throttle into an enterprise in which it is difficult to succeed, Grady said. He said Blackburn's job counselors should have steered him toward another opportunity. (N&O)