The Durango Clerk’s Office on Friday denied a Colorado Open Records Act request to review an ethics complaint that was filed last week, saying the document is privileged and confidential.
The Durango Herald filed an open-records request Tuesday seeking to review the complaint, which was received Aug. 2 by the Clerk’s Office.
The city’s ethics code, adopted under the city’s home rule authority, “specifically prohibits the public release of an ethics complaint until an initial screening process has been completed by the Board of Ethics, making the complaint privileged and confidential at this time,” staff wrote in an email in denying a request for information.
The city also cited a state law that allows municipalities to deny inspection of documents containing “trade secrets, privileged information and confidential commercial, financial, geological or geophysical data, including a Social Security number unless disclosure of the number is required, permitted or authorized by state or federal law, furnished by or obtained from any person.”
City Attorney Dirk Nelson said the ethics complaint will remain confidential until the ethics board can meet to discuss the merits of the allegations.
The ethics board must screen any complaint within 14 business days of receiving an inquiry, according to its own rules. Anyone who files an ethics complaint must sign the document and provide a home address, according to the code.
But the ethics board is scheduled to “screen” the complaint Aug. 23, which is 15 business days after staff members say the complaint was received.
The board’s decision to dismiss, mediate or investigate allegations will be made public, Nelson said. The findings and recommendations of the Board of Ethics will also be made public, according to the board’s rules.
“The Board of Ethics recognizes that distribution to the public of a complaint prior to screening by the Board of Ethics ... could harm a person’s reputation and is contrary to the public interest; therefore the public release of the complaint is prohibited until the screen process ... has been competed,” according to city code.
The complaint was filed less than a week after the Herald published a story 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 a mortgage and co-own the same business. But they keep their finances separate, they each said.
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.
LeBlanc and Nelson serve as staff liaisons to the ethics board.