Seth Furtney’s guilty pleas to criminal mischief and trespassing in 2007 have come back to haunt him during his candidacy for Durango City Council.
Furtney, a commercial property owner and former engineering contracts manager, is one of seven candidates vying for three open seats on the council. But his past run-in with the law resurfaced ahead of the April 6 election, raising concerns among some community members.
Furtney apologized and said he has learned from the experience.
“Fundamentally, I’m a strong advocate for recreation on our natural lands. This is an area where I feel like I was too passionate about access and not respectful of the fact that someone had a private property right,” Furtney said. “It was as simple as that, and I apologize.”
In June 2007, Furtney faced criminal charges for removing the fence line, fence posts and survey sticks on private property at Horse Gulch belonging to Jerry “Jake” Dalla.
At the time, Dalla was installing the fence in an effort to turn the land into a ranch, but in doing so, he blocked a popular trail atop Raider Ridge, according to reporting by The Durango Herald.
Furtney, a volunteer with Trails 2000 at the time, was identified as a suspect by law enforcement after viewing security footage. (Trails 2000, now Durango Trails, said in 2007 his actions had nothing to do with the organization.)
Furtney turned himself in and apologized to Dalla. He pleaded guilty to felony criminal mischief and criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor.
He was sentenced to two days in jail and paid restitution in the amount of $31,470.45. The felony conviction was deferred because Furtney successfully completed the terms of his probation.
He does not have a felony on his record, but the misdemeanor is likely still there, Furtney said.
“In this case, it was something I felt passionate about and have been appropriately penalized for something that was an overreach,” Furtney said. “I have learned my lesson.”
Former City Councilor Sweetie Marbury was on City Council when it appointed Furtney to a position on the Durango Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in 2016.
She said the councilors would not have appointed him if they had known about the criminal charges.
“That would be objectionable to appoint him to a Parks and Rec position because of what he did,” Marbury said. “It was the wrong thing to do, and I don’t think that’s worthy of being on City Council.”
Christina Rinderle, who was mayor in 2016, also said she was not aware of the 2007 incident at the time of Furtney’s appointment. It also would have been difficult to find the Herald article from the 2007 incident because of how the paper archives its articles, she said.
The newspaper’s website contains records from 2009 to the present. Records from 2007 and 2008 are found with an e-edition subscription through a separate archive search. Archives before 2007 are held in the Durango Public Library and at the Herald’s offices.
Rinderle said the city should ask city boards and commissions to change their applications to ask about past criminal charges brought against them.
The city’s charter does not require background checks on people who run for City Council or who apply for boards and commissions. The only qualifications to run for council are a person must have residency within the city, be 18 years old or older and be registered to vote, said Tom Sluis, city of Durango spokesman.
“Criminal convictions do not disqualify anyone from running under the charter,” said City Attorney Dirk Nelson. “The city’s ethics code addresses convictions for certain criminal activity as being potential ethical violations, but that would apply to issues arising after officials are elected or appointed.”
As a candidate, Furtney has emphasized his experience on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board as one of his qualifications for the job. He also cited his 20-year career as an engineering contracts manager and participation with Durango Trails.
He casts himself as a research-oriented candidate focused on prioritizing and investing in community goals that offer a return on that investment. His top action item if elected to a four-year term is addressing the city’s fire mitigation needs.
“Many of us have made mistakes in our past. We learn, and we grow from there,” Furtney said. “In this case, I would say the same thing has happened in my life.”