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Joan Whitely

County files four complaints

24 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Clark County has filed four complaints with the Nevada State Contractors Board related to improper hotel remodeling by Harrah's Entertainment. But the board cannot acknowledge the complaints exist because of a recent change in state law.

"The county filed four complaints last week," Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling said Tuesday. She did not know the parties named in each complaint, but she said the county would provide copies of them today. The board is the appropriate agency for disciplining contractors, she explained.

A spokesman for the contractors board would not confirm that the complaints exist.

"We can't verify or release any complaints, unless something goes before the board," said Art Nadler. "We keep confidential records. The complaint history is not made public anymore."

If the board's staff investigates a complaint and the involved parties fail to negotiate a private resolution, only then does the complaint go before the board for a disciplinary hearing, Nadler explained. Only at that point can the board share details of the complaint.

The board, whose seven members are appointed by the governor, has the power to fine a contractor, suspend a contractor's license or revoke a license. The 2007 legislature changed the way the board functions.

Welling said the county's complaints are related to remodeling work that took place without permits or safety inspections at the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas, which are owned by Harrah's Entertainment. Because no permits were pulled for the projects, it's hard to say who the general contractor was.

In the Rio's Ipanema tower, two floors of guest rooms are closed because of investigation of building-code violations. Fourteen other Ipanema floors are being patrolled around the clock with "fire watches," Scott Allison, a spokesman for the Clark County Fire Department, said Monday afternoon.

Workers who participated in the Ipanema tower remodel have told the Review-Journal that Ford Contracting did some of the demolition work and all of the drywall installation for the project. But the company has not responded to a series of overtures to learn its role, made by the newspaper since August, including a personal visit, certified letter, phone calls and a fax to Ford Contracting.

Harrah's executive Marybel Batjer on Monday could not pinpoint Ford Contracting's role in the remodel, but acknowledged, "Ford has worked for us at the Rio and at Harrah's over the years."

On Tuesday, she said she was aware of the county's intent to file complaints with the contractors board but did not know whether that had occurred.

A change in state law, which took effect May 31, reduced public access to the activities of the contractors board. Before, the board could provide, upon request, a written copy of a contractor's five-year history. That used to include, according to Nadler, the number of cases resulting in disciplinary action as well as numbers of pending investigations, investigations conducted, cases determined valid and cases determined to be unfounded.

Now the contractors board can only provide a contractor's disciplinary history. That means if a contractor and a dissatisfied customer can negotiate a resolution after a complaint has been filed, then the matter does not go on to a disciplinary hearing, which effectively seals the case from the public.

The board wanted the Legislature to put into statute its old practice of disclosing complaints for the most recent five years, but a counter campaign was successfully waged by Sen. Warren Hardy and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Las Vegas. Proponents of the new statute cited the principle of due process, so that innocent parties don't appear guilty should frivolous complaints be filed.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Clark County Fire Department personnel were set to meet with representatives of Harrah's Entertainment regarding remediation of the controversial remodeling jobs, Allison confirmed.

A cease and desist order issued by the Fire Department on Thursday remains in place at the Rio, for hotel management to make no more unauthorized changes to the fire safety system.

Batjer on Monday downplayed the order as a generalized precaution. "The Fire Department is (evaluating) the entire fire system. They don't want any new work, (which would) interfere with the present system."

But Allison said Tuesday the department issued the order because it believed recent work was done on the system.

Statewide Fire Protection has the contract for the fire suppression system at the Rio, Batjer said.

County files four complaints is republished from