The finance director for the city of Durango resigned this week amid an investigation into an alleged misappropriation of public funds.
The city said it is working with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and other public and private entities to conduct a thorough investigation into the alleged misappropriation of city funds, according to a news release issued Friday night.
“The ongoing investigation is expected to take time,” according to the city’s release. “The protection of city assets is of paramount importance. Immediate safeguards have been implemented, and additional steps have been taken to assure city funds and assets are fully protected and city services are not impacted.”
Finance Director Julie Brown was placed on administrative leave Monday and resigned Tuesday, based on interviews with city officials and Friday’s news release.
The city didn’t directly name Brown in connection with the investigation – “It’s a criminal investigation,” said Interim City Manager Amber Blake – but it confirmed Brown is the only city employee to resign this week, and the news release said the person who resigned is the same person who was placed on administrative leave earlier this week.
“While the city strives for transparency, the city will not be in a position to make any further comments or provide further information during the ongoing investigation,” the release says.
Efforts to reach Brown on Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Brown’s resignation was voluntary, and she was not given severance pay as part of leaving the position, Blake said. The finance director made $134,576 in salary and benefits in 2019, according to the approved city budget for this year.
Mayor Melissa Youssef expressed confidence in city staff and the measures being put in place to “protect our city assets and services going forward.”
“City Council has been and will continue to be supportive of the investigation,” Youssef said in the release.
City staff made the allegations known to appropriate city officials, according to a news release issued Tuesday.
It is unclear when the initial complaint was made and the amount of funds allegedly misappropriated, among other details.
Brown’s resignation comes during a turbulent time for the city:
Former City Manager Ron LeBlanc announced his retirement earlier this year. He planned to leave in “early 2020,” but City Council chose to enter a settlement agreement to end his employment effective Oct. 1.Two new city councilors, Kim Baxter and Barbara Noseworthy, have also driven change in city government – a shift to more evidence-based and frugal financial planning – something all councilors have noted in conversations with The Durango Herald. For example, approval of the city budget has been pushed to a later date than initially scheduled as councilors go through the $94 million document line by line. The budget was scheduled for approval in early December but is now slated for approval in mid-December. “This council is doing things differently,” Youssef said earlier this month. “We’re taking more time digging into issues.”
LeBlanc suggested in an interview with the Durango Telegraph after announcing his retirement that his decision came, at least in part, in reaction to scrupulous evaluation of the city manager review process.
City Council appointed Blake from the assistant city manager position to the interim city manager position Oct. 1, just two days before the City Manager’s Office released its proposed 2020 budget. The City Manager’s Office works with the finance department to prepare a balanced budget for City Council approval.
“City Council has stated a goal to enhance the public trust,” the city’s Friday night release said, “and the city is working diligently to ensure all city operations are conducted in a manner to maintain this trust.”