Durango’s Board of Ethics opened an inquiry Wednesday into whether City Manager Ron LeBlanc violated ethics rules when he sold his house with a brokerage co-owned by a city councilor.
A complaint submitted to city staff Aug. 1 – obtained this week by The Durango Herald – accuses the city manager of engaging in a substantial financial transaction with his direct supervisor. City rules keep the allegations confidential until the Board of Ethics screens the complaint for merit.
Board of Ethics Chairwoman Katherine Burgess said Wednesday after adjourning executive session to review the complaint: “Mr. LeBlanc entered into an agreement with a company owned by a sitting member of City Council. We believe that that showed an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The Board of Ethics will host a public hearing about whether LeBlanc’s actions rise to the level of an ethics violation. The meeting has not been scheduled.
LeBlanc did not immediately respond to a call for comment Wednesday.
The Herald published a story July 27 exploring the details of LeBlanc’s real estate sale listing with Durango Land and Homes, a brokerage co-owned by City Councilor Chris Bettin. The city ethics code forbids supervisors from engaging in “substantial financial transactions” with subordinates. The city manager reports to, and is managed by, the City Council.
The Board of Ethics cleared Bettin of wrongdoing two weeks ago. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
Bettin previously told the Herald that former mayor Christina Rinderle, his business partner and girlfriend, was the broker in charge of selling LeBlanc’s house. Bettin said he and Rinderle are dating, live together, split the mortgage and co-own the same business. But they keep their finances separate, he said.
LeBlanc chose Durango Land and Homes out of about 75 real estate firms in the area – according to a count by the Durango Area Association of Realtors – because “I think it’s a really good real estate firm and they have a good track record,” he said in July. The house sold Aug. 13 for $649,000, according to county records.
Two ethics complaints were filed with the City Clerk’s Office in the weeks after the Herald’s story about the city manager’s real estate agreement.
The first complaint, filed Aug. 1, is handwritten on a Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics Complaint Form bearing city of Durango letterhead. The accusation cites the Herald’s July 27 story. Peter Norton of Durango signed the document. Norton did not return a phone call Wednesday evening seeking comment.
A second complaint, filed Aug. 19, spans eight pages and reads much like litigation, including sections like “GENERAL ALLEGATIONS” and “CLAIMS FOR RELIEF.”
Durango resident John Simpson filed the document and, after city staff denied the Herald’s request to review a copy of the complaint, provided a redacted copy to the newspaper. Simpson has since withdrawn his complaint. In an email to the Herald, Simpson said he is not interested in “punishing” LeBlanc, who announced Aug. 20 he plans to retire in early 2020.
LeBlanc has worked with the city for about a dozen years. In 2009, his salary plus benefits totaled $136,114, according to city budgets. His 2019 salary and benefits were approved by City Council at $195,582. The city manager is required by charter to provide the Council with a balanced proposed budget each year.