Las Vegas Review-Journal
March 16, 2008
EDITORIAL: An unflattering county audit
What's going on with the building inspectors?
The evidence was inescapable. Clark County's building inspectors -- even when tipped off by someone who told them just what to look for -- proved unwilling or unable to spot the fact that an entire floor of the Rio hotel had been gutted and remodeled, seriously compromising fire safety without so much as a permit being pulled.
So Clark County administrators did a few things right.
They ordered an outside firm, Kessler International, to audit Clark County Building and Fire Department procedures for accepting and handling complaints of such abuses. Then, having received that report, rather than covering it up and engaging in a massive exercise of "spin," County Manager Virginia Valentine and her staff sent copies of the audit to law enforcement agencies and the press last week, admitting they have a problem.
So far, so good.
Now, Kessler International is not a police agency nor a prosecutor's office. The auditors reported what they found and what they were told, in some cases reporting the hearsay suspicions of county employees who preferred to remain nameless. No one should be prosecuted, fired or disciplined based on rumors or suspicions that have not been and cannot be corroborated.
That said, however, all those reports and suspicions now must be thoroughly investigated, in some manner other than what's gone on in the past, which might best be described as "letting the kids fill out their own report cards."
Something is very wrong with the entire culture of the County Building Department when it takes months for an inspector to respond to a whistle-blower's reports of abuses on this scale. Top-level Harrah's executives blithely insisted no such work was ever done without proper permits. Other Harrah's staffers (at Harrah's itself, not at the Rio) apparently lied to fire inspectors about the state of their equipment.
It appears such assurances were good enough for Clark County building inspector Rick Maddox, who -- county monitoring data show -- parked his truck in the Rio parking lot for a mere 39 minutes, thereupon returning to report he had inspected 37 rooms and that everything was just hunky-dory. Couple of light fixtures moved: no big deal.
And now we come to the problem that could destroy the value of all the "right steps" county administrators have taken in recent months.
Did Rick Maddox not do his job that day? Are county inspectors being bought off with cash? Other favors? Are they just lazy and incompetent? Do they go easy on major casino properties where another major fire could devastate the tourist lifeblood of this city -- while they're hell on wheels on some poor sap who's installed a residential backyard patio cover without proper permits?
Was Rick Maddox fired for what he did and did not do during those 39 minutes? Has he been referred for possible criminal prosecution? Questioned under oath?
In response, County Building Department head Ron Lynn and company say it's all "a personnel matter."
Mr. Lynn will seek money for new inspector-inspectors to inspect the work of his existing inspectors; special teams to inspect some properties every two years and other properties every three years -- oh, there's a whole lot of energetic shuffling going on in Mr. Lynn's office. Why, everyone there is even being sent in to take "ethics classes"! What more could you ask?
But at this point, nobody is willing to discuss who has been disciplined, who is going to be disciplined, or how. It's all "a personnel matter."
Mr. Lynn won't even confirm or deny whether Rick Maddox left county employ voluntarily to spend more time breeding tropical fish. Just trust him. It'll all be fine.
Unless, of course, something catches on fire.