County building official retires


The consultant who pulled no punches in his critique of county inspectors might have connected with a knockout.

Inspector James Braddock retired two days after the county released a stinging report that singled him out for irregularities, suggesting he gave preferential treatment to certain properties.

"I turned in my letter of retirement" on March 14, said Braddock, who retired as a senior building inspector.

He also said he had hired attorney Kirk Kennedy but declined to comment further. According to county records, Braddock went to work for Clark County in 1990.

Consultant Michael Kessler's report said he found 30 to 40 incidents in which Braddock appeared to have done inspections that either went outside his geographic area; entailed matters outside his expertise; overrode decisions by other inspectors; or approved construction steps out of their logical order.

Braddock's departure, ironically, occurred the same weekend that national media covered a fatal accident involving structure safety and a missed inspection.

A towering construction crane toppled, killing seven in densely built Manhattan a week ago. On Wednesday a city inspector there was arrested for lying and for faking records to falsely indicate he had done a mandatory inspection of the crane, multiple news outlets have reported.

In Nevada, crane inspections fall to the State Occupational Safety Division, not the county. But Clark County has been wrestling for almost six months with the question of how effective its fire and building inspections are.

Kessler's analysis found troubles including selective logging of complaints, falsification of reports and erratic record-keeping. He sampled complaints about commercial buildings filed in 2006-2007.

"Little reliance can be placed on any of the information contained" in computer archives that house the steps taken for each complaint, the consultant wrote.

County commissioners brought in Kessler after extensive, but covert, remodeling at the Rio came to light in the fall, entwined with the tale of a whistle-blower who couldn't get county inspectors to investigate the problem back in summer 2006.

When county investigators reopened the Rio case more than a year later, in autumn 2007, prompted by a Review-Journal probe into the case, they found extensive, undocumented and sometimes shoddy remodeling. That contradicted a previous inspector's conclusion that the remodeling had been only cosmetic.

The county disagrees with Kessler's finding that county computers allow inspectors to go back in and modify narratives without detection. According to Jerry Carroll, county auditor, the county's information-system staff reacted to the Kessler Report by turning on a deactivated "audit trail" feature, which allows tracking of changes.

The audit trail is designed more as a computer tool to retrieve lost data than as a management tool to scrutinize whether inspectors are back-dating or otherwise altering reports, according to Stacey Welling, a county spokeswoman.

Braddock is one of 17 building inspectors connected with irregularities that are detailed in the Kessler Report; 13 fire inspectors also come up.

Kirk Kennedy, the lawyer retained by Braddock, a decade ago represented another county inspector, Marcus McAnally, who was fired, then indicted in 1999 for falsifying records.

In 2002, a District Court judge dismissed McAnally's 13 charges on the grounds that the county in 1999 had no policy prohibiting inspectors from accessing computer records in that fashion, according to Review-Journal coverage.

The Kessler Report offers an opposing version of the McAnally history, namely that the case was dismissed because "the construction company in this action refused to testify against the building inspector." The report says county personnel in the manager's office and in the internal audit department both gave Kessler that version.

Kessler on Wednesday declined to say whether he felt he was misled by county staff on the McAnally case. "Because this is an ongoing investigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment."

At the time of McAnally's termination and indictment, he claimed his practices were no different than those of many of his peer inspectors.

Thom Reilly, the county manager before the present manager, Virginia Valentine, said he was not aware during his tenure of widespread manipulation of records by inspectors. He became manager in 2001, after McAnally was gone. He left the county in August 2006. Kessler focused his research on events in 2006 and 2007.

"I think a report like Kessler is good, to periodically have an outside look," Reilly said Thursday. Now a vice president of Community Reinvestment Social Responsibility for Harrah's Entertainment, Reilly directs the nonprofit Harrah's Foundation.

"No, it's not appropriate," he said when asked whether he has intervened in dealings between the county and Harrah's Entertainment. Several Harrah's hotels have broken safety or building codes by doing remodeling without permits or inspections.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at jwhitely@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0268.

 

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