UNLV says outreach unit fixed

Three years after a damning internal audit of its educational outreach department, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has no written record of what steps were taken to correct serious flaws the audit exposed.

Yet a budget officer who complained about such problems, two years before the audit, was frozen out of her job and given a “not rehirable” reference by her former boss.

Instead of responding normally to the audit, UNLV officials used an informal process, and claim that process made documentation unnecessary. Auditing experts said the informal procedure is unusual and not a best practice.

One key remedy was not taken until after the May death of Richard Lee, the vice provost who oversaw the outreach department at the time it was audited in 2006.

The failure to follow up came to the Review-Journal’s attention when it investigated a former employee’s claim that she was forced from her job for blowing the whistle on the slipshod accounting.

Leslie Blasco was the outreach department’s budget officer. Although she resigned “voluntarily,” some former co-workers, while asking to remain anonymous, confirmed that Blasco was isolated by her superiors after trying to impose fiscal order.

“She was right in the things she was saying,” said one of the co-workers.

“There basically weren’t any set procedures,” said another.

Blasco resigned in July 2005. Despite two master’s degrees, an earlier history of well-paid jobs, and a then-robust economy, Blasco has been intermittently employed ever since, rarely able to earn more than $10 to $15 per hour.

In November 2005 Blasco’s lawyer asked UNLV’s then-president, Carol Harter, to make Lee quit responding to employment verification inquiries with the opinion that Blasco was “not rehirable” at UNLV.

UNLV responded with a letter denying Lee had ever done so, and threatening to sue Blasco if she publicly asserted superiors at UNLV had mistreated her. However, documentation obtained by the Review-Journal indicates the denial is untrue; Lee had indeed called her “not rehirable.”

The following year, UNLV’s own internal audit showed that Blasco’s complaints about accounting practices were well-founded.

Its “brief summary” of problems ran three single-spaced pages of such specifics as: “There is a significant lack of oversight of the cash control function …” and “Supporting documentation for disbursements was often nonexistent.”

The audit found that the department intended to renew a $365,000 contract with one vendor, even though it appeared the vendor had produced no significant work.

Heriot Prentice, director of standards and guidance at the Institute of Internal Auditors, said he is not allowed to comment on any specific audit, but described what normally happens after an audit finds problems.

“Management should reply what he is going to do. … You would expect to see … a record that the policies were implemented, and an implementation date, and who had the responsibility to carry them out. … You would normally do a follow-up audit to assure that the remedies are in place and actually being followed.”

The UNLV audit report, prepared by Rhett Vertrees, now an associate vice president at UNLV, asked the outreach department to respond to the audit within 60 days. No written response ever came.

Instead, Vertrees said recently, “We went in and helped them set up things as we recommended. … We let them respond if they want to, but they don’t have to.”

For an internal auditor to help implement his own recommendations is not unprecedented, said Prentice, but even in that case, a record is normally kept, and a follow-up audit done.

“If the recommendations were about financial procedures, the follow-up should focus on the specific recommendations,” Prentice said.

Both Vertrees and UNLV president Neil Smatresk said a state audit of the department, completed this year, constitutes a follow-up audit and proves the problems of 2006 have been remedied. But the state audit, while it found few serious problems, does not address the important recommendations of the 2006 report.

Richard Lee, vice provost of the educational outreach division, died unexpectedly in May after what was supposed to be a relatively safe medical procedure. Smatresk was not yet president of UNLV when Lee died, but the outreach division was already under his authority, and he asked Vertrees to take another informal look at it. Smatresk said that’s standard procedure when any top official departs. This time, Vertrees recommended a key change in awarding grants and contracts.

Vertrees explained, “The way they were doing things, the principal investigator, that is, the person who awards the contract, was also responsible for deliverables — making sure the contractor did what the contract called for, so they could be paid. We said that should be done by two different persons.”

But contractors being paid without clearly delivering goods was a central issue of the 2006 audit. So why was this obvious step taken only now?

Smatresk responded, “In every big organization you get drift. There aren’t enough bodies to fill the positions, things get done ad hoc, and then you discover it and make sure it is done in a more professional basis.”

Smatresk appointed Margaret Rees, executive director of the university’s Public Lands Institute, interim vice provost over the outreach division, pending a search and permanent hire.

The 2006 audit was requested by Dawn Neuman, vice provost for academic resources. She had formerly been vice provost of the outreach division, and Rees characterized the 2006 audit as a routine step taken because Neuman turned over the outreach division to Richard Lee on July 1, 2004. However, the audit was not done until 2006, and covered fiscal years 2004 and 2005 — one year of Neuman’s own tenure but also one year of her successor’s.

The real reason for the audit, it was reported in 2006, lay in rivalry that developed between educational outreach and the Institute for Security Studies, another UNLV entity. Both wished to do projects related to military and homeland security, and they initially cooperated on some. In fact, a three-cornered arrangement between the two UNLV departments and a Henderson business named Qualifying for Success drew especially harsh criticism in the audit.

Its results were announced at the height of a controversy surrounding the Institute for Security Studies, following investigative stories by Jeff German of the Las Vegas Sun, which showed that ISS had accomplished little with millions of dollars poured into its operations.

The institute operated under the UNLV Research Foundation, a public/private organization not directly accountable to UNLV. Following the controversy, ISS was brought under university control and, in 2008, was placed in the educational outreach division, on the same organizational level as the outreach department.

Both now answer to Rees, who described the move as “part of a broad effort to consolidate our academic/research activities within the University proper, and to redirect the UNLVRF primarily toward development of the research park and other real estate projects in support of UNLV.”

Asked exactly what was done, and when, to remedy each problematic practice noted in the 2006 audit, Rees generalized, saying accounting practices are now those followed in the rest of the university. An important specific: Grants are now processed through the university Office of Sponsored Programs, which is supposed to make sure contracts clearly describe expectations and criteria by which they will be deemed fulfilled.

All other recommendations must have been accomplished by July 1, 2006, Rees said, or the same problems would have been discovered in the state’s later audit.

But if she has no record what has been done, and who did it, how does a supervisor know those corrective functions are still being carried out?

Rees responded, “Let’s suppose you do have such a record. In that case also, how do you know those functions are being carried out?”

Contact A.D. Hopkins at adhopkins@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0270.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
Record number participate in Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony
Three hundred sixty-five medical students received their white coats during the Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony at the M Resort in Henderson Monday. The ceremony was developed to honor students in osteopathic medicine, physician assistant studies, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy as they accept the professional responsibilities inherent in their relationship with patients. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stop for school buses, urges CCSD
Clark County School District Police Department hold a mock traffic stop at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Work Begins at Las Vegas Community Healing Garden
Crews moved the wooden Remembrance Wall at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden on South Casino Center Boulevard Monday. Construction on a permanent wall is set to begin within the week. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Man wounded outside Cottages apartment
Las Vegas police don't have a motive after a man was shot early Monday morning outside a northwest valley apartment. The man's mother called police to say her son had been shot. She called police around 1:15 a.m. Other people were inside the apartment but no one else was injured. Police are still looking for the shooter.
Ride new Interstate 11 segment in one minute
Interstate 11 opens to the public Thursday, providing sweeping views of Lake Mead, art deco-style bridges and a mural illustrating the construction of Hoover Dam. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Miss El Tiempo 2019
Miss Teen El Tiempo and Miss El Tiempo 2019 were crowned at Sam's Town Saturday, August 4, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Las Vegas Woman Raises Awareness for Anxiety and Depression
Cassi Davis was diagnosed with anxiety and depression after the birth of her second child. After seeking help and support, she felt that there wasn't enough for support for those living day in and day out for those with mood disorders. She created the Crush Run, set for Sept. 22, to raise money for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and bring together a community of people who live with the same conditions she does. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas marks the opening of Tropical Parkway connector
The City of North Las Vegas, Nevada Department of Transportation and other partners celebrated the opening of the Tropical Parkway connector to Interstate 15 and the Las Vegas Beltway. The stretch of road will make access easier for distribution centers for Amazon, Sephora and other companies moving into an 1,100-acre industrial area rising near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bighorn sheep with West Temple in background at Zion National Park
A bighorn sheep walks through Zion National Park (National Park Service)
Adult Superstore location closes after 45 years
The Adult Superstore on Main Street has closed its doors for good after 45 years. The shop, which offered a multitude of adult toys, novelty items and movies, opened in 1973. Four other locations remain open. A note on the front door tells customers, “We can’t fully express our sorrow.” Adult Superstore was awarded Best of Las Vegas adult store by the Review-Journal in 2016 and 2017 .
Funeral held for Las Vegas corrections officer
Department of Public Safety Correctional Officer Kyle Eng died July 19 after a fight with an inmate at the Las Vegas Jail. A funeral was held for Eng at Canyon Ridge Christian Church Monday, July 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What Back-To-School Shopping Is Like For a CCSD Parent and Teacher
Laura LeBowsky, a CCSD special education teacher and mother of two, set out to shop for her children's supply lists at her local Walmart and Target. She was looking for deals to try to keep the total under $150, while also allowing Chloe, 8, and Brady, 6, some choice in what they wanted. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Businesses struggle to fill food manufacturing jobs
Chelten House is a family-owned food manufacturing company from New Jersey. They created a facility in Vegas five years ago and have struggled to find experienced workers in the area. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LeBron heckler crosses line, altercation erupts
NBA superstar LeBron James, his wife, Savannah, and daughter Zhuri were at Liberty High School to watch Bronny James in action Wednesday night. But an unruly fan wearing a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey heckled the newest Los Angeles Laker. The man screamed at event security with LeBron and his family about 150 feet away. The man had to be restrained, triggering a brief altercation with security. James and his family were escorted out a side door along with Bronny's team, the North Coast Blue Chips. Event officials canceled the game between the Blue Chips and Nike Meanstreets.
Las Vegas Oddities Shop in Downtown Las Vegas
Las Vegas Oddities shop owner Vanessa VanAlstyne describes what's for sale in one of the weirder and wackier stores in Downtown Las Vegas. The store opened less than a year ago and carries everything from human bones to "rogue" taxidermy to Victorian death photography. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like