The Incredible 38-Minute Man

It was a massive scandal. It was in all the papers.

Fred Frazzetta -- the whistle-blower who turned in the Rio, a Harrah's Entertainment hotel -- lost his job for his effort. He was first ignored by county authorities when he insisted entire floors of the Rio had been gutted and remodeled in 2005 without valid remodeling permits or safety inspections.

That's a big deal in a town where a fatal hotel fire, especially one caused or worsened by substandard construction, could devastate the tourist trade.

County Manager Virginia Valentine said she believed Mr. Frazzetta. There was something about the way he closed his eyes when he described his memory of what those gutted floors had looked like, she said.

So, in 2007, the county sent a worker named Rick Maddox to check out Mr. Frazzetta's claims. Mr. Maddox reported he inspected 37 rooms on four floors of the Rio and found no evidence of unauthorized remodeling.

He found nothing, but remodeling had taken place -- entire walls were moved. There should have been fire and safety inspections of new light fixtures, new electrical outlets and more. No one who took the time to compare the existing floor layout to the old plans on file could have missed it. The number and configuration of rooms was substantially different.

As it turns out, the global positioning system in Mr. Maddox's county vehicle -- he may not have known it was there -- indicated that, on the day he claimed to have inspected 37 rooms, he had parked at the Rio for only 38 minutes.

An Olympic sprinter couldn't race from the Rio parking garage to the hotel's business offices, find someone with a set of keys, inspect 37 hotel rooms on four floors and get back to his truck in 38 minutes.

In the two years since the Review-Journal exposed the cover-up of undocumented remodeling at the Rio, many of the parties responsible have suffered no significant consequences whatsoever.

The only person to pay a price for dereliction of duty was the guy caught red-handed: Rick Maddox was fired. Or so we thought.

Mr. Maddox's union took his case to arbitration, where he won back pay and reinstatement under the theory that he had not been properly trained to inspect "deliberately concealed renovations made without permits" -- completely ignoring his having claimed to inspect 37 rooms in 38 minutes. It now requires "training" to take a tape measure to compare "as-built" plans to an actual layout?

Because he's back on the payroll, maybe the taxpayers who are funding his salary and pension can come up with some new duties for Rick Maddox.

Perhaps he could go spend 38 minutes having an excellent lunch at the Omelet House on West Charleston Boulevard, then drive back to his office and report, "No, I didn't see any illegal aliens" in the nearby University Medical Center emergency room.

The next day, after 38 minutes consuming a sandwich at the charming lodge up on Mount Charleston, Mr. Maddox could drive back to the office and report, "Nope, no sign the water level at Lake Mead has dropped an inch all year; I don't see anything to be concerned about."

We're told Mr. Maddox is always a hoot at the union's annual Christmas pageant, doing a great impression of the late Jim Backus as "Mr. Magoo, the county building inspector."

As they never tire of telling us, the main concern of our public employee unions is "servicing the taxpayers." And as any lady out at the Cherry Patch can tell you, 38 minutes is plenty of time for that.