When City Manager Ron LeBlanc wanted to sell his Durango home, it made sense in some respects that he asked Christina Rinderle, a local real estate agent, to handle it. A partner in Durango Land and Homes, Rinderle seems to be a talented agent. And LeBlanc no doubt wanted someone who could get it sold at an optimum price, benefiting both of them.
If Rinderle, who is a former city councilwoman and mayor, and as such LeBlanc’s former boss, did not see any conflict of interest there, why should LeBlanc? Why should the city manager worry about the appearance of a conflict of interest? Why should anyone?
It is a small city. Rinderle is a prominent realtor, although her company, Durango Land and Homes, is only one of about 75 real estate firms in the area. And then there is the matter of her partner, domestic and business, Chris Bettin, who is a current Council member and is now LeBlanc’s boss – and who told the Herald he had no idea Rinderle was selling the city manager’s home until LeBlanc mentioned how impressed he was with Rinderle’s work.
Presumably, LeBlanc meant Rinderle’s work selling LeBlanc’s home, although Rinderle, as a former city official, also successfully spearheaded the campaign for a sales tax increase in April, which LeBlanc recommended.
One reason to be concerned with the appearance of conflicts is just because we are a small city.
Then, too, we find it odd that there was never a “Hey honey, guess who’s listing his house with us?” conversation in the Bettin-Rinderle household, or even a “You’ll never guess who I spoke to today” exchange; but so be it.
When the Herald asked about the real estate deal, Rinderle said she now plans to give her proceeds from the sale to charity; which may be fine, but why not keep her profit if everything is kosher? And then she said, “There’s no story because there’s no money that’s going to be received.”
It is almost a rule of politics post-Watergate that it is always the cover-up that gets you. One problem here is that what might have been a tempest in a teapot, a reason for a cocked eyebrow but little more, is compounded by the seeming inability of the parties to be straightforward. Instead, they want to determine what is or is not a story.
“If you have a complaint, then it needs to be filed with the Board of Ethics,” LeBlanc told the Herald. “If somebody has a complaint, then we can go from there. ... There’s no complaint.”
This seems to be a variation of, “Who wants to know?” It does not seem forthright. It is not unlikely, under the circumstances, that the public wants to know. It wants to be reassured that what might look fishy, is not.
We think LeBlanc would be wise to listen to Katherine Burgess, the chairwoman of the Board of Ethics, on which LeBlanc also serves as staff. While declining to comment on a matter that has not been brought to the board, Burgess did say that perception plays a “huge role” in ethics, and that elected and appointed officials “should be very conscious of how actions are perceived.”
It is that consciousness, that caution or care, we are seeking.
“Anybody is free to perceive anything they like,” Bettin explained, “but the facts show that there is not an investigation.”
Yes. We have that part. And all of this legalistic hanging on the process of complaining to the city Board of Ethics has us exasperated.
Please consider this a complaint.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to a tax. Christina Rinderle campaigned for a sales tax increase, which was passed in April.