Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc, who has served as the city’s top administrator for more than a decade, announced this week he plans to retire early next year.
The announcement came Tuesday evening at the end of the Durango City Council’s meeting. City Council hired LeBlanc on Oct. 23, 2007, after former City Manager Robert Ledger retired from a decades-long career.
In his time as city manager, LeBlanc has orchestrated the largest city investment ever in the reconstruction of the Santa Rita Wastewater Treatment facility; acquired a bond, with voter approval, to repave Florida Road; and has hired three police chiefs. His salary, including benefits, is $195,582, according to the 2019 approved city budget.
“I plan to retire in early 2020,” LeBlanc said Tuesday, reading from a script. “This has been a good run.”
City councilors thanked the city manager for the heads-up, for his nearly 12 years of service and for, in LeBlanc’s words, “my desire to assist the City Council with an orderly transition.”
Dean Brookie, the most-senior member of City Council, said: “We’ll have future comments, definitely, once that sinks in a little bit.”
LeBlanc did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
Mayor Melissa Youssef said LeBlanc’s announcement took councilors by surprise. “I think it goes without saying that the past four months, there’s been a significant amount of conflict between staff and council,” she said. “This is an opportunity to look forward to the future in a positive way.”
It’s too soon to say exactly what actions or policy decisions City Council will pursue, Youssef said. The council is a five-member board and no individual makes final decisions.
However, as the chosen point person and facilitator for local policy decisions, she said it is important councilors engage with residents and businesses. There are plenty of resources council may use to help the board manage the transition from one city manager to another.
“First of all, we will immediately begin to address it as a council, probably next week,” Youssef said. “I have been through several leadership transitions. There are well-outlined procedures that we will follow closely.”
Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, said that after working with city and county managers all over the country, he can confidently say LeBlanc “is an outstanding city manager.”
The two didn’t always agree – “he told me ‘no’ many times,” Harper said. But Harper said “he’s been forthright and honest.”
“That’s a reliable government official you could count on,” he said of LeBlanc. “You could reason with him. If you have the facts, then he’ll listen to you. And if you don’t have the facts, he’ll flat tell you no.”
LeBlanc said no to Durango Fire Protection District plenty of times, too, said Fire Chief Hal Doughty. Doughty said he’s “not surprised that he’s chosen to leave based on the current lay of the land.”
The City Council began encouraging “accountability, transparency and open and inclusive collaboration” when two new members joined in April, the mayor said. The community has been advocating some of the policies, like a measurable evaluation for council-appointed employees, and more robust opportunities for public commenting on the city manager’s performance, she said.
“It would have been, for Ron (LeBlanc) to go through it – a complete shift in processes,” Youssef said. “I’m not certain how welcomed that would have been. Change can be difficult, especially when you’ve been in the system for 12 years.”
Doughty said, “I feel like Ron has a kind of personality where he can be definitely perceived as hard to get along with. My experience with him is that he’s been very fair, truthful. He says ‘no’ to you when he feels it’s in the best interest of the city.”
The City Council now has a lot of work to do, Youssef said. She hopes to engage with professional city and county manager organizations. The more public engagement, the better, the mayor said.
“I see this as a rare opportunity to set a new direction, build an inspiring vision and establish an opportunity to affect change from the inside out and create a new culture that is better for business, residents and organizations,” Youssef said.