The Durango Board of Ethics cleared City Councilor Chris Bettin of ethical wrongdoing Friday in relation to his brokerage’s sale of the city manager’s house.
The unanimous decision from five residents came about an hour after Bettin appeared in City Council chambers for a screening of complaints before the Board of Ethics. He said he’d been exonerated of matching allegations in two ethics complaints filed with the City Clerk’s Office in the last month. He said at least one of the complaints cited a Durango Herald story exploring the details of his business and personal relationship with City Manager Ron LeBlanc.
“So, basically, you wrote the complaint,” Bettin told a Herald reporter after the vote was taken while standing outside City Hall.
Durango Land and Homes co-owner Christina Rinderle – Bettin’s business and romantic partner – sold LeBlanc’s house earlier this month. 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. Bettin and Rinderle said they are dating, live together, split the mortgage and co-own the same business, but they keep their finances separate.
Rinderle said Friday that she and Bettin provided sworn affidavits to the Board of Ethics showing that all of the commissioned profits from the real estate transaction went to charity. She offered to provide the documents to the Herald but wanted to speak with her attorney first.
The Board of Ethics may dismiss any 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.
The board’s reason for dismissing allegations against Bettin were not immediately available, according to the City Clerk’s Office. Attorney Michael Goldberg, who was retained by the city to provided legal advice to the Durango Board of Ethics on Friday, said the dismissed complaint will not be made public “to not further implicate the individual involved.”
The board will continue screening part of a second complaint concerning LeBlanc. Katherine Burgess, chairwoman of the ethics board, said, “we want to make sure we are very thorough,” in regard to allegations against LeBlanc. The board will meet again Sept. 4.
Burgess declined to comment further. LeBlanc’s assistant, after speaking with the city manager, said LeBlanc was unavailable Friday for comment.
The city of Durango denied two open records requests filed by the Herald seeking to review the complaints before Friday’s formal and confidential screening. Both requests were refused, citing “privileged and confidential” information.
Durango resident John Simpson told the Herald he submitted the complaint made earlier this week. He provided the Herald with a redacted copy of his complaint.
Simpson’s complaint includes a link to The Durango Herald’s first article about Bettin’s and LeBlanc’s personal relationship, citing many of the facts in the newspaper’s report.
“The actions of Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Bettin undermine public trust in the accountability and loyalty of elected and appointed city officials,” Simpson wrote, an accusation dismissed by the Board of Ethics. “The actions of Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Bettin creates the appearance of impropriety or conflict by their financial relationship.”