Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc has his house listed for sale with Durango Land and Homes, a real estate brokerage owned and managed by City Councilor Chris Bettin.
City ethics forbid supervisors from engaging in a “substantial financial transaction” with subordinates. But neither Bettin nor LeBlanc said they perceive a conflict of interest or ethical violation, despite their professional relationship, in which Bettin is one of LeBlanc’s five direct supervisors.
“If you have a complaint, then it needs to be filed with the Board of Ethics,” LeBlanc said. “If somebody has a complaint, then we can go from there. ... There’s no complaint.”
A perception of conflictKatherine Burgess, chairwoman of the city ethic’s board, said no formal complaints had been filed involving Bettin as of noon Friday and declined to render an opinion about a hypothetical situation regarding an ethical violation between City Council and the city manager.
The board, which was established to adjudicate ethics complaints, does not have authority to start investigations on its own volition, she said. But speaking in general, Burgess, who has a doctorate in ethics, said perception plays a “huge role” in ethics.
“Elected and appointed officials should be very conscious of how actions are perceived,” she said.
The broker selling LeBlanc’s house is Christina Rinderle, a former city councilor who co-owns Durango Land and Homes with her romantic partner, Bettin.
The 2,112-square-foot home, which includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms on 0.33 acres in the Hillcrest neighborhood, is listed for $649,000. As of noon Friday, the home was listed on durangolandandhomes.com and was marked “contingent,” meaning an offer has been made but is not finalized.
Bettin, as the managing broker, said he does not profit from Rinderle’s commission.
In addition to co-owning a business, Bettin and Rinderle share a home. The mortgage is in Rinderle’s name and Bettin pays “quote-unquote, rent,” she said. But both said their finances are “totally separate.”
“We’re not married,” Bettin said. “She is my girlfriend, we have totally separate finances. ... We split the mortgage, totally separate. We don’t have a joint checking account, we don’t share jointly.”
Mayor Melissa Youssef said City Council is aware of the arrangement between Rinderle and the city manager and declined to comment about any perception of conflict of interest.
“This is one of those situations we may hear down the road and we simply can’t comment or prejudge any of the facts,” Youssef said in a voice message.
‘There’s no story’But in an acknowledgment that at least a public perception of a conflict of interest exists, Rinderle said she plans to donate proceeds from the sale to charity. Proceeds would go to Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen; Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County; and the Women’s Resource Center, she said.
“There’s no story because there’s no money that’s going to be received,” she said. “I want it to be very clear that ... no proceeds will come to the company from the sale.”
Executive directors of Manna, Boys & Girls Club and the Women’s Resource Center all confirmed Rinderle has been a longtime supporter.
LeBlanc declined to say why he is selling his house, saying it has nothing to do with his public duties as city manager. He chose Durango Land and Homes out of about 75 real estate firms in the area because “I think it’s a really good real estate firm and they have a good track record,” LeBlanc said.
Rinderle said a contract has been signed, but it has not closed. She declined to discuss details of LeBlanc’s sale, including why he is moving, as she would with any client, she said.
“I work with people getting a new job, getting a divorce, going to a new location or dealing with a medical condition,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive job I have. Every person that’s buying or selling has a purpose.”
Bettin said he didn’t know Rinderle and LeBlanc had arranged to sell the city manager’s house until LeBlanc mentioned how impressed he was with Rinderle’s work.
“I said to him (LeBlanc), ‘Are there any concerns you have over conflict of interest that we need to clear up?’ He said, ‘No,’” Bettin said in an interview Wednesday. “It wasn’t something I’d given a lot of thought to. We had a discussion to think through that; we couldn’t think of anything.”
City officials are subject to investigation by the city ethics board if they “engage in a substantial financial transaction for the city official’s private business purposes with a person the city official inspects or supervises in the course of the city official’s official duties.”
Investigations must be triggered by a complaint.
“I think people have to look at the facts of anything like that,” Bettin said of a perception of impropriety. “If there were an ethics complaint, the board would want to investigate. I think folks would get to see what those facts are and people can make up their own minds.
“In this particular case,” he continued, “the facts are such that the perception – anybody is free to perceive anything they like – but the facts show that there is not an investigation.”