Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc, who announced this week he plans to retire early next year, could be described as a bulwark – firm and emboldened with a lot of experience.
Just ask the people he’s worked with.
Several give him credit for his knowhow and management skills; LeBlanc has been in public service for decades. In an undated interview with CIRSA, a Colorado member-owned self-insurance pool, he said “I have been a city manager in every time zone in the continental U.S.”
He’s also been criticized for his personability – or lack thereof – and what some have interpreted as a shrewd demeanor. Some residents have been vocal about their dislike for his attitude and interactions with members of the public.
LeBlanc, since his announcement, has not responded to calls from The Durango Herald. Through his assistant Friday, Leblanc said he was not available to comment.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper called the city manager “very tough,” “fair” and “forthright and honest,” in reaction to Leblanc’s retirement announcement.
“We have some good give and take,” Harper said of his working relationship with LeBlanc. “I’m gonna miss him, really.”
In an interview with the Durango Telegraph published earlier this week, LeBlanc said: “Even though I’m retiring from here, I would not consider myself to be retired.”
City councilors were visibly shocked Tuesday night when LeBlanc announced his plans to retire. He’s been working for the City Council for almost 12 years – longer than most city managers stay in one place, according to the International City/County Managers Association. He has been instrumental in effecting change in the community, according to current and former city councilors, business owners and nonprofit executives.
Like him or not, LeBlanc deserves credit where credit is due, they said.
‘Extraordinarily gifted’Durango Fire Protection District Chief Hal Doughty said he’s always respected LeBlanc during the decade-plus he has known the city manager. Since they’ve known each other, their professional relationship morphed as the fire district and the city of Durango grew together.
LeBlanc served as a member of the DFPD board of directors when Doughty started more than 10 years ago. He credits LeBlanc with “trying to get us in a better position financially from a planning perspective with long-term goals,” Doughty said.
LeBlanc “was instrumental” in crafting the contract between DFPD and the city, a move that provided a new revenue stream for the district above its approved 5.7 mill levy from property tax.
“I get it, there are certainly people in this town who don’t like Ron or don’t share a positive working relationship with him,” Doughty said. “He can be a tough colleague to deal with, but he’s always tough in that he’s looking out for the best interest of the city.”
The city manager makes tough decisions and can wear a bull’s-eye when things go wrong, said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District.
“The city manager position takes a lot of flak from the public, so you can never make everyone happy,” Walsworth said. “But in the 6½ years at BID and working closely with Ron, I can say he’s done a really good job.”
Former city councilor and mayor Dick White said LeBlanc is “incredibly competent; he is an extraordinarily gifted manager.” The city manager has helped garner Durango’s “great reputation” around the state, even if some people weren’t too fond of his practices.
“He pushed some people’s buttons, and that has happened,” White said. “But he is so good at what he does.”
Political pressureCity Council has been an instrument of change ever since two new councilors joined in April, said Mayor Melissa Youssef.
“It’s a year of change, evidentially,” she said earlier this week. “This year of change started with the community. It’s community-driven.”
The community demands were embodied, in part, when Kim Baxter catalyzed a now monthslong review and redesign of evaluations for City Council appointees: the city manager, attorney and judge.
City staff could not provide evaluation records for the three appointees from the past three years when Baxter asked for them soon after her election. She sought the records to inform herself of what she should expect of the appointees and how they’ve done in the past.
“It’s imperative that the City Council take the responsibility to remedy this situation, to take accountability for it and to prioritize it, so that we know where the city is going, how we’re going to get there and whether or not we’re doing it by measurement,” Baxter said at the time.
The draft evaluation for the city manager asks councilors to rate, on a scale of one to five, how well the top administrator meets expectations in eight areas of responsibility, each with dozens of specific questions about performance.
The Durango Herald noticed LeBlanc listed his house for sale around the same time.
‘Writing on the wall’The Herald reported LeBlanc’s house was for sale upon learning it was listed with Durango Land and Homes, a real estate brokerage 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 was the real estate broker assigned to the sale of LeBlanc’s home, which sold Aug. 13 for $649,000, according to county records.
At least two ethics complaints have been filed with the Durango Board of Ethics since the Herald’s story published in July. The Board of Ethics dismissed a complaint involving Bettin on Friday and continued the screening of another involving LeBlanc.
The ethical allegations against LeBlanc were not made public. The city of Durango denied the Herald’s request to review the complaints.
Earlier this week, City Council presented a draft of a more robust public comment process as it relates to the city manager’s job performance. The Durango Charter – the city’s foundational legal document – requires local leaders to invite “the public” to “comment on the performance of the city manager,” according to the charter.
The city has given the public 30 days’ notice to comment each year since LeBlanc started, the city manager said. But in all that time, LeBlanc said the invitation has solicited just one comment.
“We need to do it in a manner that allows people to see the notice and an opportunity for people to respond,” City Councilor Barbara Noseworthy said at the meeting.
LeBlanc returned the one-page draft riddled with more than 50 comments and questions, many nitpicking at the finer details of the council’s proposal.
Less than five hours later, he announced his retirement.
In the Telegraph article, LeBlanc suggested he tendered his resignation, at least in part, in response to tense conversations about how his position is evaluated.
“I was hopeful that we would have had a more productive discussion,” LeBlanc said.
DFPD Fire Chief Doughty said he wasn’t surprised by LeBlanc’s announcement.
“I think everybody could see the writing on the wall,” he said. “You couldn’t have been in this community and have been conscious and not recognize that he has been truly embattled since the new city councilors have come on board.”