In a decision released Thursday, the Forsyth County Civil Service Board upheld the termination of Jeff Chance.
According to the board’s ruling, its second in the matter, the county commission fired the former county planning director for legitimate reasons.
The board first upheld Chance’s termination in December. That ruling was appealed to the Forsyth County Superior Court.
In August, Judge Jeffrey Bagley reversed the decision and remanded the matter back to the three-member panel to consider whether the actual reason for Chance’s firing was not the one given.
Chance was terminated from his 15-year employment with the county in August 2010 after an investigation of his management practices and computer use.
He contends his dismissal was politically motivated, while the county has argued it was based on failure to comply with and enforce policies.
The county’s investigation was prompted by former planning commissioner Brant Meadows’ review of Chance’s county e-mail.
That probe turned up messages of a sexually and racially charged nature between Chance, his girlfriend and other county employees.
Chance, who was making about $92,000 a year, used profanity at work and permitted employees to waste county time, according to the investigation.
In its first review, the civil service board upheld three of the 12 findings in the county’s probe and partially supported three others. The remaining six were not sustained.
In Thursday’s decision, which passed 3-0, the board agreed that Chance “met his burden of proving that a discriminatory/retaliatory motive was a factor in the decision to terminate his employment.”
However, it continues, “The civil service board finds that the county would have made the same personnel decision based on non-retaliatory/non-discriminatory grounds.”
Tim Buckley, the attorney representing the county, said afterward only that “the board reached the right result in again affirming the termination decision of the board of commissioners.”
Attorney Eric Chofnas, who represents Chance, said the panel used an improper standard in reaching its latest decision.
Its interpretation of the order would ultimately require Chance to prove every reason given by the county for his firing was false, Chofnas said.
“That’s not the standard. It’s a subjective standard,” he said. “The question is what was the true reason for the employer’s actions.”
He added that the board upheld just three of the 12 given reasons for termination.
“There’s specific case law that makes it clear that if you disprove a sufficient number of the proffered, legitimate reasons, then you can infer that the actual reason was improper,” Chofnas said.
Furthermore, the civil service board attempted Thursday to clarify that its statement regarding political motives in the original decision had been incorrectly interpreted in Superior Court.
In the first report, the board stated that investigation and discipline against Chance was “motivated in large part by improper political motives and accompanied by a poor quality investigation.”
The board asserted that it lacks the proper authority to take action against the improper political behavior, except for an ethics complaint it lodged against Meadows.
The complaint, which was ultimately dismissed, was the result of testimony during Chance’s eight-day civil service appeal hearing.
In the decision approved Thursday, the clarification reads: “The board meant that it did not have jurisdiction over those other actor(s) involved in what the civil service board believed was improper political action.”
Chofnas pointed to that quote from the original decision and said the clarification is “completely nonsensical.”
The attorney said he plans to file a petition in Superior Court for additional certiorari review, as was instructed as an option in Bagley’s order.
“I’m going to go back and see if I can get it reversed a second time,” he said.
Chance also filed suit against the county in 2010 on the grounds his rights as a whistleblower had been violated.
A hearing has been scheduled for December on the county’s motion for summary judgment, filed in spring, on that case.