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Health district official walks out amid tensions over restaurant inspections

Disagreement over how restaurants are being regulated boiled over at a Southern Nevada Health District board meeting Thursday with an official offering her resignation and walking out after she was criticized by her staff.

Southern Nevada Health District Director of Environmental Health Jacqueline Reszetar’s staff thinks the department is too business friendly in its approach to restaurant inspections, according to Brian Shepherd, chief of staff for Service Employees International Union local 1107, which represents health district workers.

Reszetar also was criticized for making culturally insensitive comments, though it wasn’t clear what she is accused of saying.

“Excuse me, but today I will give you my resignation, today. You’re safe,” Reszetar said to her employees, according to a recording of the meeting. “You can go back to the environmental health that you feel comfortable with. I’m done today. Thank you very much.”

After the meeting, Reszetar said she had not quit. Dr. Joseph Iser, chief medical officer for the district, said resignations can only be submitted in writing.

Shepherd said employees in the restaurant inspection division have very little confidence in management, and Reszetar’s conduct emphasizes how difficult the work environment is.

“At a minimum, that’s totally inappropriate conduct for any health district official,” Shepherd said. “She got up in front of the board and stormed out. The behavior demonstrated today shows the type of atmosphere the employees have to work in. If that official could act that way in front of the board, can you imagine what it would be like to work for that individual?”

Iser told the board after Reszetar left that he would talk to her to straighten out the situation. He didn’t expect any further action, though.

“No disciplinary action whatsoever,” he said. “It’s not warranted.”

Bob Beers, a Las Vegas city councilman and member of the Board of Health, said some inspectors have complained because the district has changed from pursuing significant fines against restaurateurs in a climate that was capricious, arbitrary and punitive. That shift has been mischaracterized by some as being too business friendly, Beers said.

“Dr. Iser and Jackie Reszetar have attempted to create a culture where they’re trying to elicit compliance,” he said.

Iser said he prefers to approach public health inspections with more carrots than sticks. Punitive measures should be used only when necessary. Iser said he prefers to use the carrots of counseling, education and outreach to get restaurant operators performing to acceptable standards.

“My goal is compliance with regulations,” he said. “My goal is not to close anyone.”

Contact Steven Moore at smoore@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563.

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