County supervisor Maddox back at work after Rio violations

The man who was fired after he botched the county's first investigation into unauthorized remodeling at the Rio hotel is back on the payroll.

With help from his union, Rick Maddox returned to his job as supervising building inspector in January, with back pay and seniority. He even has the same phone extension as he did before he was fired 11 months earlier.

The county had not revealed Maddox's arbitration or rehiring. After the Review-Journal learned in late June of his reinstatement, it took the county six weeks to fulfill the newspaper's request for copies of documents relating to Maddox's arbitration, which took place in Phoenix in December.

"I have no comment, OK?" Maddox said Friday when reached by phone at his county office.

The arbitrator, Peter Maydanis, determined Maddox could not be held responsible for poor investigative work, since the county had never trained him to investigate "deliberately concealed renovations made without (building) permits," according to a two-page arbitration award document Maydanis signed on Dec. 28, 2008.

At the same time, Maddox "failed to properly devote the time and attention" necessary to ensure the safety of a "place of public accommodation," Maydanis also wrote. "Maddox's sins of omission or commission were serious ones, when one considers them in hindsight."

The county on Thursday released the two pages. It contends related papers are confidential personnel materials, not public records.

Maddox was terminated in February 2008 for the substandard Rio investigation he performed in February 2007.

A check of the global-positioning device in Maddox's county vehicle later showed he spent only 38 minutes at the hotel to investigate allegations from whistle-blower Fred Frazzetta, who had worked on the remodeling project and claimed extensive renovation took place on numerous floors without proper permits or inspections.

Maddox told the Review-Journal in autumn 2007 he checked 37 guest rooms in his brief visit, all selected by Rio personnel. He kept no record of which 37 rooms, and said he found evidence of only minor, cosmetic changes.

When the newspaper documented Frazzetta's claims in print -- after researching the Rio's building plans and permits -- county officials reopened the investigation Maddox had closed. It found extensive changes had bypassed safety inspections and, in many cases, did not meet safety codes.

For example, some of the defective work would have promoted the spread of smoke during a fire.

But, the arbitrator noted, Maddox had an exemplary prior work record; the Rio incident was a first-time offense; and the arbitrator could find no lesser, yet appropriate discipline available under the collective bargaining agreement that governs Maddox.

He and other county supervisors belong to a unit of the Service Employees International Union.

Clark County Commissioner Chis Giunchigliani, who recently read the arbitration award, said she was surprised Maydanis wrote "no questions of honesty or integrity have been raised," given Maddox's failure to document the details of his initial brief investigation.

"Binding arbitration is exactly that. The county had to take him back," Giunchigliani said.

But she wants to look into whether county staff adequately documented the expectations for Maddox's job, and his performance.

"If it's not in writing, it doesn't exist," she said.

Current annual salary for the reinstated Maddox is $97,281, which reflects customary increases he would have received had he not "separated" from the county in February 2008, according to Stacey Welling, a county spokeswoman.

Maddox is not the only one to have escaped with little permanent effect from the discovery of undocumented remodeling on or near the Las Vegas Strip, which began with the Rio, and has since extended to six of its sister properties in Las Vegas. All are owned by Harrah's Entertainment.

Criminal charges in connection with remodeling at the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas are still pending after more than a year.

The three defendants, facing one misdemeanor count each, are employees Robert Bruna and David Matthews, and Harrah's Entertainment itself.

No arraignment -- the next step in the prosecution process -- has been held, though the oldest two charges were filed in February 2008. Sept. 9 is the newest arraignment date set for the repeatedly postponed matter.

Gary Thompson, a Harrah's spokesman, refused to talk about the postponements.

"We appreciate your offer, but we have no comment," he wrote by e-mail Friday afternoon. "These are questions for the court."

There's no word yet, either, on arrival dates for two promised reports that are intended to document the extent of unauthorized remodeling, and repairs to that remodeling, at Harrah's sites here.

The county is doing one report, which will be limited to remodeling at the Rio.

The second report is a code-compliance "audit" of Harrah's resorts here, by outside consulting firm Leo A Daly, which county commissioners authorized last autumn.

Harrah's will pay up to $1.2 million for the Daly report, which will review 60 randomly selected remodeling projects at its local hotels.

If the audit costs more, the county will pay the balance.

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at jwhitely or 702-383-0268.