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Best of Benjamin Spillman

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Benjamin Spillman
 

LVCVA takes steps to tighten oversight

14 January 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority officials said Tuesday they will strengthen oversight of charitable donations and other spending, citing a recent flap over the group's chief executive officer signing off on donations to a charitable group that subsequently honored him at a lavish banquet.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, president of the board of directors for the authority, announced what he called policy adjustments during the group's monthly meeting.

"We made a few adjustments," Goodman said of a decision by a review committee to require future charitable donations to be specifically identified in line-item budgets.

The changes were prompted by a flap in December, when a conservative Las Vegas think tank supported by convention authority political opponents publicly questioned a $25,000 donation to the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver.

The conservative group, called the Nevada Policy Research Institute, criticized authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter for signing off on the donation, made with taxpayer money, in part because Ralenkotter later accepted a humanitarian award from the group.

"I think it was a good exercise," Goodman said of the report, subsequent public debate and policy updates. "I believe we have benefited from this particular experience."

The authority has an annual budget of about $294 million, most of which comes from taxes applied to Las Vegas hotel room charges.

In addition to updating the guidelines for charitable contributions, the authority changed a policy to ensure multiyear contracts with vendors that don't have a set spending level be scrutinized annually by the board, which would then approve expenses and the scope of work for the upcoming year.

That change seems to address another set of allegations by the think tank, namely that workers for R&R Partners ad agency and the authority had become overly cozy in their professional relationships.

The allegations, distributed online and in an extensive print report, highlighted instances in which the authority overpaid for work and suggested R&R operated without appropriate scrutiny.

In the past five years, the authority has spent $399 million through deals with R&R, some of which the institute said went to subsidiary companies wholly or partly owned by R&R owners through transactions that weren't fully transparent.

In a rebuttal, the authority listed awards for R&R's work, financial reporting awards for the authority's auditing efforts and continued growth in the number of people visiting Las Vegas as evidence of its overall effectiveness.

Still, the policy updates announced Tuesday seemed geared to address the criticisms.

"It is good to see they are moving in the right direction," said Andy Matthews, vice president of communications for the research center. "They are at least acknowledging there are some problems that need to be addressed."

Matthews said he was happy the spotlight shone by his group generated action by the authority. He also said he hopes the new oversight doesn't fade with the public's attention.

"We, as a public, need some assurances that it does not go back, it does not go back to business as usual," he said.

LVCVA takes steps to tighten oversight is republished from CasinoVendors.com.