It has been nearly 11 months since Durango’s last city manager, its top executive, departed abruptly after City Council voted unanimously to end his contract. This was quickly followed by the discovery of massive errors in the city’s budget and bookkeeping, and the resignation of the finance director – who ultimately was arrested for thefts stretching back almost two decades and totaling more than $700,000. No one who pays attention to the city’s affairs from the outside has not asked themselves at some point recently, “What the heck is going on over there?” – or more likely, “What the heck was going on over there?” And, “Who was supposed to be keeping an eye on things and what were they doing?”
The city is still not back on an even footing. Finding a new city manager has taken an awfully long time, perhaps lengthened by fresh challenges from the pandemic. Assistant City Manager Amber Blake took over as acting manager when Ron Leblanc, the last manager, departed. She has done an able and even winning job of keeping things mostly together through trying times. We hope she will serve the city for years to come.
But now the time has come for council to take the next step. It hired a recruiter, then voted unanimously to advance two finalists, one of whom dropped out to take a job in a different city. That left Jose Madrigal, whom the council liked quite well – and also Blake, who belatedly threw her hat in the ring. Council should be voting as soon as this Tuesday to offer the job to one of them. Instead, it seems to be introducing more delays, perhaps until Madrigal, too, takes an offer elsewhere.
That’s a mistake.
Council recently split 3-2 in favor of advancing Blake as a finalist rather than moving to hire Madrigal. The two newest members, who had little to do with the mess that went before and much to do with trying to surface and rectify it, were the No votes – not because they don’t like and appreciate Blake; they do, we think, and we will go further and say Blake certainly deserved consideration.
But now it is past time for the city to move on. Madrigal appears to have more certifications and experience than Blake, including, especially, experience with leadership and the proper working of several other cities. Blake’s experience stems primarily from working under LeBlanc and in the culture he developed. Ultimately, that was a failure, culminating on the watch of three of the five current councilors. This is not Blake’s fault, but it does speak to experience. To her credit, we believe she may be more than willing to stay on and work with a new leader who could have much to offer all of us.
The city does not seem to have hired much leadership from outside its ranks since January 2008, when it hired LeBlanc. By promoting from within, LeBlanc built a sizable cadre of workers loyal to him – and along the way he could not help but impart his disdain for council or effective, democratic supervision. This worked, as we have seen, until it very much did not.
Like a house that has been shut up too long, the city needs some fresh air. It needs someone who can bring experience gained elsewhere and apply it to our situation now. It badly needs someone who can shake things up where that is what is required.
And that is why the next city manager should be Jose Madrigal.