Former inspector says new audit repeats old issues

CLARIFICATION ON 03/18/08 -- A story that appeared in Monday’s Review-Journal should have made it clear that the Kessler Report, on Clark County building inspection and fire inspection practices, contained the following allegation: “A number of individuals with whom (Michael) Kessler spoke advised Kessler that some Building Division and CCFD inspectors did not want to create a hostile environment at the hotels where they were assigned to inspect complaints since it was alleged that certain inspectors received comps from the hotels including meals, show tickets, stays at other properties and branded clothing.”

Clark County officials last week described an audit of the county's building and fire safety inspections as "scathing," "shocking" and "disturbing" and promised quick, decisive action to correct long-standing problems.

But county officials about 10 years ago tackled head-on some of the same concerns raised in the recent audit while prosecuting a former building inspector, who contends that he was railroaded and that other inspectors did the same things for which he was fired, indicted and taken to court.

"The allegations at the time were that people were receiving preferential treatment, and now they are being accused of the same thing in the audit," said Marcus McAnally, the former inspector who has a wrongful-termination lawsuit pending against the county.

A county grand jury indicted McAnally in 1999 on 13 felony counts of concealing or falsifying records or papers by a public official after he had altered computerized inspection records.

But the criminal case against him was dismissed in 2002 after a judge ruled no crime had been committed, and a hearing officer in late 1999 ordered the county to rehire McAnally in another division.

At about the same time, allegations that building inspectors inappropriately solicited donations from developers and casinos for a nonprofit trade group were referred to the state Ethics Commission. It found no wrongdoing by inspectors but issued a finding that such fundraising was inappropriate.

Also, allegations surfaced at that time that inspectors were receiving show tickets, clothing, free meals and other gifts from the businesses they were paid to regulate, and new directives were put in place to prevent such behavior, McAnally said.

Yet the outside audit, performed by New York-based Kessler International and released last week, said that inspectors in 2006 and 2007 gave preferential treatment to developers and casinos and that they falsified and altered records and discarded documents about building and fire code violations.

The audit also found that the inspectors received show tickets, free meals, clothing and hotel stays in violation of state law.

"In 1999, they (county management) said these were terrible things to do and that we must have oversight over this (conduct), and then, after eight years, they haven't done anything," McAnally said. "If they thought there needed to be a higher level of supervision over staff back then, why didn't they implement it? If anything, the oversight now seems to be less, not more, than it was back then."

Also, McAnally said that the county installed GPS tracking devices in all inspectors' vehicles shortly after he was terminated to keep a closer eye on personnel and implement more efficient policies and practices.

At that time, the tracking devices were to be used to examine whether an inspector spent too much or too little time on a particular job and whether inspectors were taking the best route to get to job sites, he said.

The audit criticized the county for not using the GPS tracking devices.

The audit said, "It has been brought to Kessler's attention that a significant tool available to Building Division management is not being utilized to its fullest potential. Kessler recommends that GPS be utilized on a regular basis to spot check an Inspector's day log against the GPS records to ascertain that what the inspector claims to be doing is reflected."

McAnally said that he was targeted for prosecution because he had refused a request from Ron Lynn, then assistant director of the county building department, to solicit contributions for the nonprofit International Conference of Building Officials.

His claim was partly responsible for the ethics charges against Lynn and three other high-ranking employees in the business building department.

The ethics charges were dismissed because the Ethics Commission found such solicitation, while inappropriate, did not personally or financially benefit the officers and thus did not meet the standard required by state law as proof of an ethics violation.

Lynn later was promoted to lead the county's development services division, which includes the building division.

The Kessler Report was inspired partly by a Review-Journal exposé of extensive unpermitted, uninspected and sometimes dangerous construction at Las Vegas hotels, and his department's failure to meaningfully address the issues when told about them.

Lynn will present to the Clark County Commission on Tuesday a proposed remedy, including a new 20-person investigative team, costing $4 million a year.

First-term County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who represents the district that includes most of the Strip, questioned whether county administrators took steps to correct problems and conflicts of interest that surfaced in connection with the McAnally saga.

"It appears that we (county) found we had problems between eight and 10 years ago, and that we didn't take it seriously enough to do anything about it," Giunchigliani said. "It is our responsibility now, and I don't think there is anybody on the commission who is going to look the other way."

Commission Chairman Rory Reid and longtime Commissioner Bruce Woodbury could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Lynn declined to be interviewed Friday, citing his heavy workload as he finishes proposals for the commissioners.

Contact reporter Frank Geary at fgeary or (702) 383-0277