County proposes investigative team in wake of audit

A report that describes flawed inspections of remodeling work at two resort casinos and a sub-par response to complaints has prompted Clark County leaders to put forth a $4 million-per-year remedy.

The county wants to form a 20-person investigative team to inspect high-rise resorts more thoroughly in response to an audit done by Michael Kessler, a New York consultant.

In a report released Wednesday, Kessler recommended beefing up inspections, code enforcement and training to better ensure the area's largest buildings are safe, especially those located where tourists flock for entertainment.

Kessler began the audit in November after an investigation showed undocumented and sub-par remodeling in hundreds of rooms at the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas.

Plans to create an investigative team will go before county commissioners Tuesday. A couple of commissioners agreed that inspections should be improved, though they winced at the cost.

"It's unfortunate there's a price tag of $4 million," Commissioner Susan Brager said. "We're in tough economic times right now."

For that reason, Brager said she wants to study Kessler's findings and the county's recommendations before making a decision. Still, Brager said she thought County Manager Virginia Valentine was on the right track in trying to ensure there are enough people to properly inspect buildings in a county this big.

"I think it's probably a good move," Commissioner Bruce Woodbury said. "This proposal could go a long way in deterring any abuses in the future."

The price is hefty, he said, but could be covered mostly with building fees.

Aside from looking into complaints, the team would examine 20 percent of rooms at every high-rise hotel in the county each year, completing the entire inspection in five years.

However, if problems are found at a hotel, the whole site could be inspected at once, said Ron Lynn, the county's building department chief.

The team also would do biennial "life-safety tests" of resorts, condominiums and apartments, checking fire alarms and smoke detectors, Lynn said. Building inspectors would be trained to look for potential problems that are concealed, rather than just scanning new construction.

And the maximum fines for undocumented commercial work would be raised to $50,000 from the current $4,000.

"We're looking at a cultural change that's going to have to happen in this department," Valentine said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at (702) 455-4519 or