An ethics complaint has been filed with the city of Durango, but the details of the complaint have not yet been made public.
The City Clerk’s Office received the complaint via mail Friday. Deputy City Clerk Chris Vicari said the contents of the letter, and the accused individuals involved, will not be released to the public until the Board of Ethics meets for a “screening” of the allegations.
The Durango Herald filed an open records request Tuesday seeking access to the complaint.
According to city rules, ethics complaints are not made public before they have been screened by the ethics board for fear a complaint “could harm the reputation of an innocent person and is contrary to the public interest.”
The Herald published a story last week about City Manager Ron LeBlanc’s house being listed for sale with Durango Land and Homes, which is co-owned by City Councilor Chris Bettin.
The city’s code of ethics forbids a supervisor from engaging “in a substantial financial transaction for the Public Official’s private business purposes with a person the City Official inspects or supervises in the course of the City Official’s official duties.” Bettin is one of LeBlanc’s five direct supervisors.
Former mayor Christina Rinderle is the real estate agent assigned to the sale of LeBlanc’s home.
Bettin and Rinderle said late last month that they are dating, live together, split the mortgage and co-own the same business, but they keep their finances separate.
In an apparent recognition of a perceived conflict of interest, Rinderle said commissioned proceeds from the sale of LeBlanc’s home will be donated to charity. In a previous interview, LeBlanc said he didn’t talk with Bettin about selling his home before deciding to list it with Rinderle. He declined to say why he is selling his house.
The ethics board must screen any complaint within 14 days of receiving an inquiry. Anyone who files an ethics complaint must sign the document and provide a home address, according to the code.
The board – consisting of five residents – may dismiss the complaint for seven reasons, according to code, including: a lack of jurisdiction; the violation is “minor or de minimus”; the inquiry is “on its face, frivolous, groundless or brought for purposes of harassment”; or the person accused has taken action to address the alleged inappropriate behavior.
If the complaint isn’t dismissed, the board may appoint a staff member or private individual to investigate the inquiry. It’s within the ethics board’s discretion to find the investigation complete and determine whether a public hearing on the facts of the inquiry should be scheduled.
Any notice of hearing “shall set forth in reasonable detail the alleged violations of the Code of Ethics and the facts supporting the allegations,” according to city code.
LeBlanc and City Attorney Dirk Nelson serve as staff liaisons to the board.
Nelson said the screening process is private but that any decisions made by the board in regard to the confidential session will be made public. Notices of hearings are also available to the public, he said.
The Board of Ethics dismissed a complaint in 2016 against former City Councilor Sweetie Marbury alleging she used her authority to draft rules that would have financially benefited her son.
Marbury recommended decreasing the lot-size requirement for building additional dwelling units in the city, a change that could have allowed her son and 27 other property owners to build a unit, according to a report by an independent investigator. The suggested changes were not implemented.
The board discussed the appearance of impropriety but decided there was no violation because other property owners would have benefited if the lot-size restrictions were changed, according to a recording of the meeting.