If you caught an employee using company funds for personal use, would you pay him to retire, give him a fat performance bonus and let him continue working for you as a highly paid consultant? Not in a million years. Yet, that’s exactly what the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has done with CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, who recently received a retirement package amounting to about $455,000.
There’s no denying that the LVCVA under Ralenkotter did a great job in promoting Las Vegas as a tourism and convention destination. But recent news reports have made it pretty obvious that some of its executives were using the taxpayers’ money as personal slush funds. With an annual budget of $251 million and apparently very little oversight, there was plenty of room for dishonesty. Brig Lawson, the director of business partnerships, used LVCVA funds to purchase $90,000 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards between 2012 and 2017. He instructed Southwest to mark the invoices as promotional expenses, not gift cards, and then distributed them to various people within the agency.
We know that Ralenkotter used more than $16,000 for personal travel, and board member Lawrence Weekly used another $1,400 for his daughter’s travel. In the end, auditors were unable to determine what happened to about $50,000 worth of cards. What private company would neglect to track $90,000 worth of cards that could be used like cash? A company that would soon be out of business! But, we’re talking about an agency that runs on taxpayers’ money. Like most government-run institutions, it doesn’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of us. There seems to be an unending supply of other people’s money, which is the easiest kind of money to spend.
The gift card fiasco is only the latest in a series of incidents that illustrate a widespread, systemic misuse of public funds at LVCVA. It routinely violated its own already-lax expense policies, funding first-class overseas trips for board members and spending lavishly on high-end entertainment. Its warehouse distributed thousands of dollars worth of promotional gifts, including iPads and Bose speakers, without tracking where they went. The agency routinely pulled Convention Center security guards away from their regular duties to drive Ralenkotter and “chief tourism ambassador” Oscar Goodman around town, despite the fact that Ralenkotter received an annual vehicle allowance of $9,000.
LVCVA executives learned in February 2017 that the Southwest gift cards hadn’t been properly accounted for, but they didn’t report it to the board for an entire year. After the board-appointed auditors concluded that $50,000 worth of cards was missing, LVCVA declined to pursue the matter, claiming it would cost more than $50,000 for auditors to track down the cards. Was that the real reason, or was it because they wanted to hide what really happened?
After the police became involved, the board rushed into its hearing about Ralenkotter’s severance package before police had a chance to investigate further. His cronies all lined up to praise his years of service and voted to give him a half-million-dollar, taxpayer-funded parting gift to go along with his $400,000 taxpayer-funded retirement. North Las Vegas mayor John Lee was the only one opposing this outrageous act.
Call to Action: It’s time to drain the LVCVA swamp, starting with an investigation into where the missing cards went and who used them. What happened in the LVCVA shouldn’t stay in the LVCVA. The agency owes it to the taxpayers to finally show some accountability, set up procedures for tracking expenses, and punish wrongdoers instead of rewarding them.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
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