The decision to create a Code of Conduct and Ethics came about when Durango City Council began updating its Land Use and Development Code and, specifically, vacation rentals, particularly ones in downtown neighborhoods, above. During initial discussions, Councilor Keith Brant learned that when he rented out his personal residence about a year ago, it was actually in violation of zoning laws. He later recused himself from the conversation./Photo by Jennaye Derge


City puts together conduct and ethics policy
by Tracy Chamberlin


Although no one spoke up, it was talked about for more than 40 minutes.

During a public hearing on the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics policy at the Durango City Council’s regular meeting on Tues., Sept. 2, nobody came to speak at the podium. But that doesn’t mean it was the end of the conversation.

City Councilor Dick White brought up nine of what he called “substantive and editorial” points about the 17-page draft code Tuesday night. And all those were on top of several comments at an Aug. 12 council study session on the same topic.

“I think this policy is important, getting it right at the outset is a major plus,” White explained in an interview.

It also wasn’t the first opportunity for the community to comment on the code with two public workshops held in late July, which city officials said were well attended. In addition to public review, city staff turned to other cities, organizations, emails and online forums for input on the code’s development.

Check it out

To view the city’s Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics, including previous drafts, go to and click on the “Hot Topics” tab on th e left-hand side.

Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager, called it a “complex policy.” As the lead staff member on the 4 project and host of the workshops, Miles presented council with an update of the recent changes to the document on Tuesday night.

She broke down the public feedback into several themes, including public trust, transparency, accountability and apparent vs. perceived impropriety. She added that several responders from the community commented on the complexity of the policy and the desire for more time to review it.

One of the key points brought up in the beginning and later stages of the code’s evolution has been the creation of a Board of Ethics.

Originally, the board was to be made up of the City Manager, City Attorney and Municipal Judge; but, that combination was considered ripe with potential conflicts.

On the suggestion of the public, the board was changed to a blend of five at-large community members. They would be chosen by City Council and only three would be required to live within the city limits.

Other changes included giving the City five days to let someone know that a complaint has been filed against them; defining what constitutes a conflict of interest; and, giving the Board of Ethics 30 days to provide an assessment of a complaint.

And, those might not be the last changes made. “This is a document that’s probably going to need some adjustment over time,” City Attorney Dirk Nelson said during Tuesday night’s meeting.

One issue White raised Tuesday night was the definition of confidential information, something that the council hasn’t attempted to put into writing until now.

White explained, for example, if there was an issue that could become the subject of an executive session like a pending real estate transaction, premature disclosure of those talks could affect the deal or potentially benefit an individual.  

“It’s a tough one to codify,” White said.

Following the council meeting, staff plans to update the draft code and present it for a first reading at the next council meeting at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 16.

The first three sections of the code outline the intent, framework and purpose. It goes on to address specific issues like contracts, gifts, business interests and vote trading; and, broad topics such as duty, decorum, objectivity and respect. It also addresses consequences and enforcement.

This is where the Board of Ethics comes in. They are entrusted with rendering a decision on whether or not a city official has violated the code, then it moves to the council.

“The City Council shall order penalties as deemed just and appropriate, depending on the seriousness of the violation and any mitigating circumstances,” the code reads.

White said in the long term the code could go a long way to building transparency and public trust. “I feel strongly we should be candid with the public,” White said.

The decision to create a code for the conduct of city officers, board members, commission members, volunteers, and elected or appointed officials came about when the council began addressing an updated Land Use and Development Code and, specifically, the section on vacation rentals.

During those initial discussions, everyone on the council was learning about the details of the current land use code.

Councilor Keith Brant said it was during this process he learned that when he rented out his personal residence about a year ago, it was actually in violation of zoning laws in effect at that time.

In an effort to quiet the chatter about any perceived impropriety and allow the process to move forward, Brant said he voluntarily removed himself from the conversation. “I wanted to come out with that,” he explained.

Brant manages vacation rentals for a living; however, all of his properties are outside city limits.

La Plata County does not have any zoning or permitting requirements for vacation rentals. He called it a second-home market, adding that individual homeowners associations have the right to authorize and enforce rules for vacation rentals in their neighborhoods.

Brant said a lot of effort has gone into the creation and development of the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics, and that it’s a good idea to have one. “Everybody should have a code of ethics,” he said.

He added the public workshops were well attended and staff received comments online and via email, so the public hearing Tuesday night would likely be short.

In fact, no one from the public spoke. That didn’t mean, however, no one had anything to say.