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Complaint says official threatened 3 workers
Civil service board calls for ethics probe
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Forsyth County News

 

The Forsyth County Civil Service Board has accused Brant Meadows of ethical misconduct.

The complaint surfaced this week following a lengthy hearing for former planning director Jeff Chance that wrapped up Dec. 2.

Chance, who was fired in August, is trying to regain his job. The three-member civil service board has not made its decision, and has about 22 more days to do so.

According to the board's ethics complaint, it became aware during the hearing of three instances where Meadows may have used his position as a county planning commissioner “to attempt to influence an outcome on a particular issue by threatening the job of a Forsyth County employee."

More specifically, the board contends that testimony and evidence showed Meadows threatened not only Chance’s job in April, but those of engineering department employee Simon Wilkes this summer, and former Elections Director Gary J. Smith in 2009.

The board, which lacks the authority to act on the complaint, has asked the county to appoint a special prosecutor to show “it will not tolerate county officials abusing county employees by threatening their jobs.”

Meadows called the complaint “an effort of intimidation.”

“I think citizens should be wary of government officials who try to coerce and intimidate and that’s why I’ve hired an attorney,” Meadows said.

He said the complaint contains “technical deficiencies.”

“Two of those items did not meet the timeline requirements of the ethics rules,” Meadows said. “If you’re going to file a complaint, it has to be within six months of the date of the alleged incident. That’s in the ethics rules.”

He said the board also didn’t follow its own procedural rules in holding two executive sessions, which are closed to the public, since Dec. 3.

Meadows said county ordinance requires the board’s meetings be open to the public.

Dana Miles, an attorney who also serves as the board’s hearing officer, said the panel is within its rights to deliberate in private.

“I believe that the board has the right, as does any board pursuant to state law, to go into executive session for the reasons they’re delineated,” Miles said.

“A perfect example would be, the board in essence acts like a jury in these cases. A jury doesn’t deliberate in public.”

Miles went on to say that the board makes a proper motion to go into executive session each time and signs an affidavit for each private meeting, as required by state law.

The board includes John Blanchard, Avery Howell and Terry Smith. Howell serves as chairman.

In his appeal hearing, Chance contended that he was dismissed for political reasons stemming from a disagreement in April over a zoning matter.

According to Chance, Meadows threatened his job to force a public hearing on the issue, which he wanted to bolster his candidacy for a seat on the county commission. The campaign was unsuccessful.

The county has argued that Chance was fired for failing to enforce and follow county policies.

During the hearing, held over three weeks between Nov. 16-Dec. 2, Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt testified that he had heard Meadows threaten Chance’s job in April.

He couldn’t remember the exact words Meadows used, but said the planning commissioner told Chance something to the effect of “I’ll have your job.”

Meadows testified that he didn’t remember threatening Chance.

He said he told Chance during the meeting that he just wanted Chance to do his job.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard testified that he helped Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse draft a letter to Meadows, asking him to refrain from contact with county employees.

The letter was the result of a complaint by Wilkes regarding a discussion he had had with Meadows.