The drawn-out and nearly sordid drama of soon-to-be-former Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc and the City Council finally reached a fevered pitch Tuesday and was lanced with the council voting unanimously to end LeBlanc’s contract.
When did it begin? We cannot be sure, but we think it was just after last April’s city election. It brought two new members to council who, with Mayor Melissa Youssef, formed a three-person majority on the five-member board. It was sometime after that when LeBlanc put his home up for sale, listing it with a former councilor who is the business and romantic partner of a current councilor, and apparently thought nothing of that transaction until it was in the news – and not even then.
As a condition of ending LeBlanc’s contract, council agreed Tuesday to “a full and complete resolution of all issues ... including ethics complaints.” So the complaint about that real estate transaction, pending before the city’s Board of Ethics, disappears.
It is not a small price but it may be a fair one to pay to move on. Now it will be up to council to show that is so.
It could be that when LeBlanc decided to sell his home, it was because he could see the change the election wrought and did not want to serve the new council. Yet he stayed, and it was only lately that he conveyed his lack of respect for it, when council members moved to extend their oversight of him – which is a critical part of our council-mayor form of government. LeBlanc, in turn, was niggling and pettifogging.
When you work in government and serve the people’s elected representatives, you cannot flout their will, because it is the people’s will. You may wish you could, but you are better off keeping that to yourself or, better, finding another line of work. LeBlanc knew better.
By all accounts, including ours, he was a competent manager up to a point. The problem, really, was with his personality. He became high-handed with council and others. He was arrogant.
When your personality circumscribes your competence, the problem no longer is just your personality.
Now council has done the prudent and necessary thing by choosing to part ways almost immediately with LeBlanc, while designating an acting successor, Assistant City Manager Amber Blake. She has had a front-row seat for this small fiasco and we hope will have learned something salutary from it.
It falls to council to make more hay. We recommend that it involve the community as much as possible in the search for a new, permanent city manager – but it also needs to clarify, for itself and all of Durango, just what it wants in a new city manager. It is not enough to seek a not-LeBlanc, in which case almost anyone would do.
Council needs to state and restate priorities for the short and long terms that the next manager can help it execute. Are, say, pickleball courts more important than wastewater treatment? Does new business development on South Camino del Rio take precedence over bike lanes? How much effort and resources should be expended on the homeless?
This may be the most important: In what ways do council and other residents hope to see Durango change in five, 10 and 20 years? That is what we should be planning for, and what the next city manager should implement.
This council is off to a great start. We look forward to seeing it keep up the work.