New Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Steve Hill said Monday that the agency’s approach to spending and other business practices has not “kept up with the times.”
Hill’s comments were his first in response to a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation that found lavish expenses for alcohol, meals and gifts for staff members; frequent security escorts and transports for retired CEO Rossi Ralenkotter; and a lack of controls on gifts stored at the agency’s warehouse.
Additionally, LVCVA auditors determined that Ralenkotter used nearly $17,000 worth of taxpayer-funded gift cards on personal travel for himself and his family before being caught and reimbursing the agency.
“I don’t think the organization had quite kept up with the times,” Hill said, declining to criticize his predecessor. “We need to do that, and we need to do what it takes to engender the trust of not only elected officials but the industry, our customers and the community.”
Hill met with the Review-Journal’s editorial board Monday for a wide-ranging discussion about the future of tourism in Las Vegas as well as problems uncovered at the publicly funded authority. Ralenkotter retired at the end of August. Hill, who previously served as chief operating officer, has led the agency for less than two weeks.
He declined to specify any concerns about spending at the agency and would not discuss ongoing criminal and ethics investigations surrounding the misuse of the gift cards.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about an investigation,” he said.
But Hill indicated that he sees problems with the agency’s management.
“We need to be aware of what we’re doing,” he said. “We need to be transparent about it. There are going to be times when we’ll disagree on what our decisions are. Sometimes I may even think you’re right, and we’ll reconsider those. We need to make good decisions. We need to be transparent about them, and we need to instill trust in the organization.”
Hill also said staffers already have addressed some of the poor practices exposed by the Review-Journal. The agency hired a new chief financial officer and some new audit staff members. The recently installed CFO, Ed Finger, has revamped the tracking of iPads, golf bags and other expensive gifts at the warehouse.
Hill said he also does not expect to use security guards to chauffeur him. The Review-Journal found that Ralenkotter and former Las Vegas Mayor and LVCVA board member Oscar Goodman, a contractor who heads the agency’s host committee, regularly used security officers for rides to work, home and events.
“I don’t think it would be necessary for me” to use security for rides, he said. “I don’t know what situation would come up where that would be the right thing to do, but if it is, I would.”
Ralenkotter, who received an 18-month, $270,000 consulting contract to help the transition, will not have an office at the authority and is there to help Hill get acquainted with the new job.
“He’s moving on with his life,” Hill said. “There was a planned transition from Rossi to me that was intended to be longer than it has been, so having Rossi through that transition is very beneficial.”
Hill declined to say whether the board asked Ralenkotter to resign after the gift card travel scandal came to light.
“That was a conversation between Rossi and the board, so you’ll have to ask them,” he said.
The LVCVA board is scheduled to vote on Hill’s compensation Tuesday, but he said he does not know how much he will make. Ralenkotter made $862,000 in salary, bonus and benefits in 2017 and received a $455,000 severance package, including the consulting contract.
A compensation study showed that the average salary for CEOs of destination marketing agencies is $635,000, Hill said. But he conceded that most of those positions are not primarily funded with tax money.
“The board feels that the position needs to be filled with someone who can perform at this level and be compensated at that level,” he said.