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July 26, 2014

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CONSTRUCTION:

Resumes get scant inspection

Clark County does not routinely verify work histories of those it approves to inspect sites

CityCenter Construction

MGM Mirage's $9 billion CityCenter project, encompassing seven buildings, continues rising Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. Launch slideshow »

One of the CityCenter inspectors who failed to spot serious errors at the Harmon high rise was approved by Clark County to monitor complex construction projects after submitting a curious resume.

It listed no dates he attended school. It listed no educational degrees. It did not name any business that had ever employed him, or list the locations of projects where he had worked, as an inspector.

Normally those omissions would be a red flag, sending employers to the telephone for more information and verification. Not in Clark County.

No one at the county checked the resume of Scott Edberg before approving him as an inspector. Indeed, a county spokesman told the Las Vegas Sun that the county does not routinely verify information on resumes.

Qualifying as a specialized inspector requires a certain amount of experience in that area. A rebar inspector such as Edberg would need two years of experience.

Edberg was one of two private inspectors who filed dozens of false reports stating there were no problems with the Harmon before an engineer in July found 15 floors of wrongly placed reinforcing steel. That discovery, coupled with the weakening economy, led owner MGM Mirage to decide last month not build the top 21 floors of the building.

In assessing the aftermath, county officials have pointed to Edberg and the other private inspector on the project, Joseph Glenn Laurente, as two culprits in a systemic breakdown that allowed faulty work to go undetected for nearly six months. If Edberg and Laurente had properly documented problems at the Harmon, the county could have intervened much sooner, according to county officials. (Left unsaid in that is that the county’s own employees also missed the problems.)

A hearing next month could help resolve one of the key questions still unanswered in the Harmon debacle: Did Edberg and Laurente miss the problems at the Harmon because of incompetence or some other reason?

Neither Edberg, Laurente, nor a representative of their employer, Converse Consultants, could be reached for comment. And although Edberg’s resume was vague, it had nothing indicating he did not have the necessary experience to be an inspector in Clark County.

Yet some people familiar with the county’s private inspector program say the Harmon debacle points to a larger breakdown in the county’s monitoring of private inspectors. The system sometimes allows inspectors on the job without the necessary experience, they say.

“If it’s on the resume, we don’t follow up,” said a county inspector who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “A lot of times third parties will fudge the resumes because they need the bodies out there. They do it all the time.”

Several people familiar with the private inspector system agreed that falsified resumes for inspectors are common — an open secret within the county’s building department. This was particularly true when the valley’s construction boom caused a shortage of qualified inspectors, they said.

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin confirmed that the county does not check the experience or educational background on resumes.

“Certainly if we had reason to suspect something is not accurate, we would look into it,” Kulin said. “As far as I know, we’re not aware of anyone who has falsified their resume.”

Kulin said the county does seek to verify professional certifications.

Like a number of other jurisdictions, Clark County requires project owners such as MGM Mirage to hire certified inspectors to sign off on complicated structural elements of construction projects and submit their reports to the county.

Development Services Director Ron Lynn has said he believes Clark County has one of the most stringent private inspector oversight systems in the country, given its dedicated team of specialized county monitors. But until recently, those monitors spent most of their time following up on reports from private inspectors rather than making sure the inspectors were qualified and properly performing their jobs.

Some aspects of the system are standard under the international building code, but activities related to oversight of the private inspectors are left up to the discretion of the county or city administering the system.

Los Angeles employs eight people who spend almost all of their time reviewing the qualifications and activities of private inspectors applying to be authorized there, said Los Angeles Building and Safety Department spokesman Bob Steinbach. Unlike Clark County, Los Angeles requires all aspiring inspectors to go through an interview with a city employee and take a test designed specifically for the city.

Other municipalities take a smaller role in oversight. Phoenix leaves it entirely up to engineering companies to verify the suitability of private inspectors, said Mo Clancy, Phoenix’s deputy director of commercial inspections.

One problem with the system in Clark County, critics say, is that when county employees identify unqualified inspectors, accountability is minimal. Companies are sometimes allowed to repeat errors, they say.

For example, from May 15 to Aug. 27, Owens Geotechnical Inc. was cited for sending out unapproved inspectors four times at Summerlin Centre, the Hard Rock Hotel and a residential building project, according to county documents. In total, the company was issued 36 violations in 2008. One Owens employee was identified in violations two dozen times.

An Owens representative, who asked not to be identified, said the problems were mostly related to paperwork and dispatcher errors. Another problem was that the county sometimes verbally approved inspectors before they were placed on the official list, the Owens representative said.

The violations were not related to “life safety issues,” he said.

The Owens representative said the county did not promptly notify the company of the violations. Two weeks ago Owens officials were told they had racked up an unusual number of violations and were called into a meeting at county offices, but until then they were unaware of the problems, he said.

The company has a new inspection manager and has not received as many violations in recent months, he said.

Kulin, the county spokesman, told a different story. He said Owens’ violations were discussed with the company as far back as July 17.

“The system isn’t broken,” the Owens representative said. “What happened is that a lot of these things have been going on for years and the county was always ‘too busy’ in the past. Now that the workload has gone down, they’re issuing more notice of violations. The part I have a problem with is that the county is not very timely in this.”

Accountability for the Harmon incident is also still forthcoming, during a hearing set for March.

Edberg has been removed from county-approved inspector lists at the request of his employer, Converse Consultants, according to a county source. Laurente was removed from the list of approved rebar inspectors but is still authorized to inspect foundation work.

Lynn, the county’s development services director, originally said neither inspector had worked on any projects in the county other than the Harmon. However, Laurente’s resume states that he worked on numerous projects in Clark County, including 10 structures at CityCenter. Edberg’s resume was too vague to determine whether he had worked here.

Kulin acknowledged that Lynn misspoke.

The county recently said it is requiring MGM Mirage to hire inspectors to reinspect all buildings where Converse inspectors — including Laurente — had been stationed to make sure they’re structurally sound.

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