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Complaint over ethics dismissed
Civil service board balks at resubmitting matter
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Forsyth County News

 

The Forsyth County Civil Service Board has decided not to resubmit its complaint against a former planning commissioner.

The tribunal filed its grievances against Brant Meadows with the local ethics board, contending he had used his position three separate times to intimidate and threaten the jobs of county employees in 2009 and '10.

In a meeting last month, the ethics board discussed the complaint, which was filed after an eight-day appeal hearing to determine whether the county's former planning director, Jeff Chance, could get his job back. 

The ethics panel ruled that the complaint needed to be signed by a person and not an entity. Also, transcripts and other evidence from the hearing should have been attached to the complaint.

It gave the civil service board seven days to make the changes and refile the complaint or it would be dismissed.

Meadows' service on the planning board has since ended.

Dana Miles, an attorney who also serves as the civil service hearing officer, told board members at a meeting Thursday that they could withdraw their complaint or ask the ethics panel to conduct its own investigation.

Terry Smith, vice chairman of the civil service board, pointed out that they could do nothing and the complaint would be dismissed.

He said it has been a long-standing board policy to report any perceived wrongdoings that surface during hearings.

"I think we had solid ground on sending it to them," Smith said. "I think history has proven the ethics board in their 11 years of existence has tried to find ways not to have hearings rather than to have hearings.

"I don't think there's a snowball's chance in the desert that they would undertake an investigation. That' s my opinion."

Miles told the board that he disagreed with the ethics panel's findings.

"First of all, I would point out to the board that nowhere in the Forsyth County ethics ordinance is 'person' defined, and generally under the law a board or corporation is considered a person and is treated with equal status," Miles said.

He went on to tell the civil service officials that they could not individually sign the complaint because they did not witness the events, but learned of them during Chance's appeal hearing.

The board voted unanimously not to resubmit the complaint.

Also at Thursday's meeting, County Attorney Ken Jarrard informed the board of changes being made to fix discrepancies between the civil service handbook and the county-specific state law.

The changes were discussed Tuesday during a county commission work session.

Apparently, the commission had not been sending all of the rules in the handbook, which the board has been following, to the state for approval over the years.

For example, the commission approved a board request in 2004 to raise members' pay from $50 to $100 per meeting.

That change was noted in the handbook, but state law still shows the lower amount is to be paid for up to two meetings per month.

"The reason we did that was other boards were making $100," Smith said. "We were the least paid board in the county and we just asked to be brought up to where it was the same for everybody."

Jarrard said there are still some regulations that need to be changed because they make no sense, such as a rule forbidding anyone covered by civil service protection from engaging in political activity.

"I don't know if that would've passed Constitutional muster when it was adopted in the 1970s, but I know it won't now," Jarrard said.

Historically, the county attorney's office has represented the local government in most appeal hearings. Jarrard proposed that be changed so representation is required only if the appellant chooses to hire a lawyer.

"Maybe the message to the employees will be we can deformalize this a bit, and if you want to come and tell your story to the board without a lawyer, then Cheryl Robinson or someone from (human resources) will come and tell their story from the county's perspective," Jarrard said. "Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't."

He said the commission also discussed whether an eight-hour suspension should be eligible for an appeal hearing and, if not, whether it counts as progressive discipline.

In an effort to give employees some recourse, Jarrard said the commission has recommended allowing employees to file a written appeal of the first eight-hour or less suspension in a calendar year.

A second suspension would result in a hearing.

"We have talked in the past about that," Smith said. "We have recommended that eight-hour suspensions not be appealable because it takes a lot of time.

"Sometimes it's taken as much time as a regular hearing. So I would agree with that."

The civil service board's next meeting is scheduled for March 10.