A public notice issued this week by the Durango Board of Ethics details why it dismissed an ethics complaint against City Councilor Chris Bettin but found merit in allegations against City Manager Ron LeBlanc.
The notice says LeBlanc’s actions of engaging in a real estate transaction with a firm owned by a sitting city councilor and a former city councilor “gives rise to an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The complaints were filed last month after it became public knowledge that LeBlanc listed his house for sale with Durango Land & Homes, which is owned by Bettin and former Mayor and City Councilor Christina Rinderle. 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.”
The Durango Herald first reported on the real estate arrangement in late July. Since then, two Durango residents filed formal complaints with the City Clerk’s Office, including one Aug. 1 alleging that, “City Manager Ron LeBlanc has apparently engaged in a ‘substantial financial transaction’ with City Councilor Chris Bettin.”
The Durango Ethics Board cleared Bettin of wrongdoing, saying that he “had no knowledge of the real estate transaction between his business and romantic partner (Ms. Rinderle) and City Manager LeBlanc, and he did not profit from the transaction between LeBlanc and his company because Durango Land & Homes did not receive its normal commission on the sale.”
Rinderle told the Herald in July that she would donate all proceeds from the sale of LeBlanc’s home to charity. While that mitigated any perception of a conflict of interest, “the board noted that the timing of the donation after the Herald article served to lend credence to the claim that the transaction was ethically questionable,” according to the board’s notice for a public hearing.
But LeBlanc’s actions seem to violate the city’s Code of Conduct, “which states, in relevant part, that city officers and officials shall ‘avoid appearances of impropriety or conflict by virtue of current or past relationships,’” according to the notice.
LeBlanc did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.
The Board of Ethics reviewed a memo prepared by the director of member services and ethics for the International City/County Management Association suggesting that, “Selecting an elected official or their family member to conduct your personal business may raise the appearance of a conflict of interest. Disclosure is a consideration to mitigate any concerns,” the board wrote in its notice, quoting the memo.
“The city manager had as an option to request an advisory opinion from the Board of Ethics prior to his arrangement with Durango Land & Homes,” the board wrote in its notice to hold further hearings. “... The board could have then requested that he refrain from such a transaction, or, it could have approved the arrangement, which could have avoided the complaints and the ‘appearance of impropriety.’”
A public hearing has not yet been scheduled. The board asked LeBlanc to file a response to the notice within 20 days. His deadline is Oct. 3.