Ethics? Las Vegas CVB Board
In response to a amid a Review-Journal investigation, changes have been instituted by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) with regard to ethics. The investigation brought to light excessive spending at the tax-funded LVCVA as well as lax board oversight of gifts and traveling expenses.
New policies approved by the LVCVA remove a $400 limit on accepting gifts. The new rules also no longer encourage board members to travel abroad on Las Vegas CVA business unless they have expertise that can assist staff on a trip.
Tuesday’s board action also comes after prosecutors have filed felony theft charges against three former LVCVA executives. These included retired longtime CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, over the mishandling of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the agency between 2012 and 2017.
Following a policy committee meeting last week, Board Chairman Larry Brown said the tougher rules reflect ongoing efforts by new CEO Steve Hill. The new chief is working to change the convention authority’s free-spending culture.
“We’ve reached that point in time where the transparency, the accountability — these things are at a high level right now, and I think (the new) board policy does a lot to get there,” said Brown, who also is a Clark County commissioner.
The changes, part of an overhaul of the board’s policies. For the first time hold the 14-member board to the same ethical standards followed by most state agencies.
The Las Vegas CVA board, which includes 8 local elected officials and 6 business and casino executives, oversees spending at the tourism agency. The convention authority has a $251 million annual operating budget, funded mostly from hotel room taxes. Seats on the board have long been coveted by elected leaders for prestige, perks, and access to the state’s powerful gaming industry.
Brown said board members no longer can take trips outside the country just for the sake of traveling. They can travel at the agency’s expense only if they are supporting the business mission.
“It’s not just, ‘OK I’d like to go on a trip,’” he said. “It’s a process now.”
Board members must get approval from the chairman in collaboration with the agency’s CEO.
The new policies should prevent members from traveling around the world like City Councilwoman Michele Fiore did in her first year on the board in 2018.
Fiore, who is now the city’s mayor pro-tem, took 4 international trips in 7 months. This was despite a policy approved in 2017 that was meant to limit board members to one trip abroad a year, the Review-Journal reported in January.
Let the record show…
Records showed her trips to Brazil, Japan, Singapore and Spain cost taxpayers about $33,000.
Under the rules then, a board member could take more than one trip a year for any reason. All they had to do was simply get permission of the chairman. In Fiore’s case, then-chairman Lawrence Weekly approved her other three trips, records showed.
Her extensive traveling appeared out of sync with the reforms taking place during Hill’s administration.
Fiore said at the time that her trips were needed to help sell Las Vegas as a tourist destination. She said she planned to visit the agency’s 14 international marketing offices.
But since the newspaper story was published, no board member, including Fiore, has taken a trip overseas. This was confirmed by Brown last week.
When asked for comment about the latest travel restrictions after Tuesday’s board meeting, Fiore said, “Rules change just like your underwear.”
She refused to say whether she still plans to visit the LVCVA’s international offices. She did say she would take a future trip overseas if the board’s chairman asked her.
The criminal investigation into the theft of Southwest Airlines gift cards has kept attention on ethics practices of both the board and the LVCVA.
Ralenkotter, who retired more than a year ago, and his chief marketing officer, Cathy Tull, were charged in the case last month with theft and misconduct by a public officer. They are accused of misusing thousands of dollars in Southwest gift cards for personal travel. Both denied wrongdoing, but reimbursed the agency before they left. Tull resigned in April.
Weekly, who used $1,400 in gift cards on a trip to Dallas with his daughter while chairman, escaped prosecution. He did, however, agree to pay the Nevada Commission on Ethics $2,400 in fines for violating the public’s trust. The county commissioner also paid back the agency $700 for the cost of his daughter’s ticket.
Las Vegas CVA officials uncovered the gift card misuse during Ralenkotter’s tenure as a result of a Review-Journal records request. Police later launched the criminal investigation after the newspaper disclosed the results of an outside audit.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo & Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.