Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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CCSN’s, official’s methods conflict

An office administrator who worked several years with CCSN construction chief Bob Gilbert, who is under investigation for allegedly abusing his office, said Gilbert was known to cut corners - and violate procedural guidelines - to get the job done.

Gilbert was, after all, a creature of the private sector, unaccustomed to the rules and formalities of a bureaucracy, Frank Lassus said.

Just how far Gilbert may have bent the rules - and whether he did it for personal gain - is being investigated by the state attorney general's office. Its actions follow a Sun investigation into allegations from college employees that Gilbert tapped campus workers and material, and enlisted contractors who do work for him on campus, to build his ranch home near Mount Charleston.

Some officials who have worked with Gilbert over the years say the investigation is long overdue. Others remain entrenched in Gilbert's corner.

"From designing and planning and construction perspectives, Bob does a very good job in a very difficult environment, dealing with the public arena, administrative procedures that are challenging and having to deliver in the real world buildings for students," said Thomas Schoenman, president of JMA, an architectural firm that designed the telecommunications and health sciences buildings for the Community College of Southern Nevada.

If there is any agreement, it is that Gilbert is strong-willed and does what he wants - and has made friends and enemies along the way.

Because Gilbert ran a small private construction company before joining the college, he didn't adapt well to running public construction projects, Lassus said. Bureaucracy and red tape got in the way of getting the job done.

And because Gilbert "dealt only with what was in his line of sight," Lassus said, he often took short cuts to quickly accomplish the job - such as skipping the required bidding process and hiring subcontractors he knew to do the work.

If a job was so expensive it required regents' approval, and Gilbert didn't feel he could afford to wait until they next met, he would split the job into two less-costly work orders to dodge the need for approval, Lassus said.

The entrenched culture of CCSN - of embracing a good ol' boy network of rule tweakers - may have led Gilbert down a slippery slope, Lassus said. He said he did not witness Gilbert violating anything more weighty than system procedures.

"There was a sense that to get things done, expediency won out over the rules," Lassus said. "Bob was just doing his job as best as he could."

Lassus, who is now director of the private Nova Southeastern University campus in Las Vegas, worked as an administrator under Gilbert from August 2003 to June 2005.

The attorney general's office has interviewed college employees who claim Gilbert used his position to build his 4-acre ranch off Kyle Canyon Road. Employees alleged to the Sun that Gilbert used college equipment, materials and employees to develop the ranch and intimidated would-be whistleblowers. They allege he further skirted system rules to complete college projects.

Gilbert has denied the allegations, attributing them to disgruntled employees. He referred calls this week to CCSN spokeswoman Helen Clougherty. His attorney has not returned numerous phone calls seeking comment.

Gilbert, with 30 years in the construction business, has a reputation for getting the job done. Principals at several major companies, including Martin and Harris, JMA and SH Architecture, described him as a tough but fair taskmaster who kept projects on track. For them, Gilbert, with his decisive manner, was a breath of fresh air - a college construction manager who actually knew something about construction. Having worked as a contractor for the college before he came to work at CCSN, Gilbert knew how contractors might drive prices up with change orders - and turned that insider's knowledge to the college's advantage, said Ray Crook, former director of roofing for the state's public works office.

While projects at UNLV, such as the Lied Library, were besieged by cost overruns and delays, projects at CCSN were zipping along undeterred. That earned Gilbert praise and loyalty from his higher-ups, including CCSN President Richard Carpenter and university system Chancellor Jim Rogers. Rogers, in fact, used Gilbert as a consultant on construction projects for the statewide health science system.

Rogers and Carpenter stood behind Gilbert when the allegations against Gilbert were reported this year by the Sun. The men said that, at most, Gilbert used bad judgment in hiring college contractors to work on his ranch because of the perception he was getting a sweetheart deal.

"Everyone I talked to says he knows construction, knows how to deal with Public Works Board, knows how to talk to everybody involved," Rogers said. "I never had one person say, 'Watch him because he's stealing from you.'"

The attorney general's office served search warrants June 13 at the community college, Gilbert's ranch and WGDL, a construction company that had been supplying workers to the college as well as at Gilbert's ranch. The investigation has rattled Rogers. The vice presidents supervising Gilbert, Jeffery Foshee and Patty Charlton Dayar, declined to comment because of the investigation. Carpenter did not return phone calls this week.

But Rogers and Carpenter have said in the past that Gilbert's private construction experience may have worked against him. His gruff, fast-moving, decisive ways, for instance, created sparks in the slow-moving, shared-governance world of academia, Carpenter said in a March interview.

"Construction people are just different people, they live within their own world and a lot of it ... is kind of trade for trade, and people will help people out," Rogers said Tuesday.

But as a public employee supervising taxpayer money, Gilbert should have avoided even the appearance of impropriety, Rogers said. "Working for a public institution, even though it is fair and square to do those things (privately), you don't do them," the chancellor said.

Lassus spent six years as a high-level campus administrator at the West Charleston campus before being assigned to Gilbert as his No. 2 administrator to bring organizational structure to the office.

Yet, Gilbert largely managed his office single-handedly, Lassus said. Gilbert received little oversight because his bosses were relying on him for his expertise, Lassus said. Gilbert rebuffed all attempts by Lassus to organize the office and eventually took away all of his job duties.

Office workers say they were wary of Gilbert's temper.

"When people would see him pull up with his Hummer in the parking lot everyone would run like hell because they were afraid of being hollered at," said Patrick B. O'Donnell, a former CCSN worker who also did work at Gilbert's ranch while employed by WGDL.

Gilbert gets mixed reviews from contractors, architects and public works officials who have worked with him. One contractor, for instance, described Gilbert as a bully, while others sing his praises.

Architect Schoenman said he would be staggered if the attorney general found anything inappropriate in Gilbert's actions, saying he always had found Gilbert to be "honest and above board."

"Bob has always acted in the best interest of the college," Schoenman said.

Gus Nunez, the current head of public works, also speaks well of Gilbert.

But Gilbert has had run-ins with other public works officials, said Crook, who worked for the state for 16 years before taking a job overseeing construction jobs for Target Corp. in 2004. Crook said he grew suspicious of Gilbert in the late 1990s, when roofing materials disappeared on a job.

Gilbert claimed to have thrown them away because the contractor was dirtying up the job site, but an employee told Crook the materials were loaded up in Gilbert's truck. A few months later, Crook said, he visited Gilbert's ranch and saw sandstone on his property that had been specially ordered for the college. He reported it to his boss at the time, but nothing was done about it.

But his biggest run-ins with Gilbert, Crook said, dealt with Gilbert's resentment of public works officials checking on his campus projects.

"I think truly in his own mind, he believed he knew more about construction than anyone. He was that self-confident that he could do what he wanted and get away with what he wanted."

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